Caffeine narrows the blood vessels in your brain. Without it, your blood vessels widen. The resulting boost in blood flow could trigger a headache or result in other symptoms of withdrawal.
Read on to learn how peppermint, ice, and other therapies can help ease your headache and reduce your reliance on caffeine overall.
Several OTC pain relievers can help relieve headache pain, including:
- ibuprofen (Advil)
- acetaminophen (Tylenol)
These medications are typically taken once every four to six hours until your pain subsides. The size of your dose will depend on the type and strength of the pain reliever.
One way to ease a caffeine withdrawal headache — as well as other headaches — is to take a pain reliever that includes caffeine as an ingredient.
Not only does caffeine help your body absorb the medication more quickly, it makes these drugs 40 percent more effective.
It’s important to remember that caffeine consumption of any kind will feed into your body’s dependence. Whether you let withdrawal run its course or resume consumption is up to you.
If you do take a pain reliever, limit your use to twice a week. Taking these drugs too often can lead to rebound headaches.
Some research suggests that topical menthol — peppermint’s active ingredient — may help soothe headaches by reducing inflammation and relaxing tight muscles.
If you want to give it a try, gently massage two to three drops of peppermint oil into your forehead or temples. This oil can be safely applied without dilution, though you’re welcome to mix it with a carrier oil.
If you regularly drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages, upping your water intake can help reduce your risk for related headaches.
Caffeine can make you urinate more, increasing the amount of fluid you lose. Too little fluid in your body can make your brain shrink in volume.
When your brain shrinks, it pulls away from your skull. This sets off pain receptors in the protective membrane surrounding the brain, which could trigger a headache.
The amount of fluid each person needs to stay hydrated can vary. A good rule of thumb is to drink eight glasses of water per day.
Ice is a go-to remedy for many people who get migraines. Applying an ice pack to your head can help ease headache pain by altering blood flow or numbing the area.
Another option is putting the ice pack on the back of your neck. In one small study, researchers placed a cold pack over the carotid artery in participants’ necks. The cold treatment reduced migraine pain by about a third.
Various points around your body correlate to your health. These are called pressure points, or acupoints.
Pressing on certain pressure points may help relieve headaches, in part by easing muscle tension. Researchers in a 2010 study found that one month of acupressure treatment relieved chronic headaches better than muscle relaxants.
You can try acupressure at home. One point that’s tied to headaches is located between the base of your thumb and your index finger. When you have a headache, try firmly pressing on this point for five minutes. Make sure you repeat the technique on the opposite hand.
Some people find that taking a nap or hitting the hay early can help relieve headache pain.
In a small 2009 study, 81 percent of participants with persistent tension headaches cited sleep as the most effective way to find relief. The relationship between sleep and migraine relief has also been noted.
That said, sleep has a tumultuous connection to headaches. For some people, sleep is a headache trigger, and for others, it’s is an effective treatment. You know your body best.
If other measures aren’t providing relief, you may consider giving in to your caffeine craving. Although this is a surefire way to soothe your symptoms, doing so will add to your dependence.
The only way to break this cycle is to cut back on or give up caffeine entirely.
Caffeine withdrawal symptoms may start within 24 hours of your last intake. If you quit cold turkey, they may last up to a week.
Along with headaches, withdrawal symptoms can include:
- low energy
- low mood
- trouble concentrating
One way to avoid caffeine withdrawal headaches is to reduce your dependence on caffeine. Though if you go cold turkey, you could end up with even more headaches. The best way is to cut back slowly. You should aim to reduce your intake by about 25 percent each week.
For example, if you usually drink four cups of coffee a day, go down to three cups a day for the first week. Continue to cut back until you get down to one or no cups a day. If you crave the taste of coffee, switch to decaf.
You may consider using a food diary to track how much caffeine you’re getting. This will help you cut back on other sources of caffeine, such as black tea, soda, and chocolate. Switching to noncaffeinated alternatives, such as white tea, seltzer with fruit juice, and carob may help.
Most people can manage caffeine dependence or reduce their reliance without medical intervention.
You should make an appointment with your doctor if your headaches are accompanied by:
- double vision
You should also see your doctor if your headaches happen more frequently or increase in severity.