Some people say caffeine gives them a headache. Others say it's the only thing that cures theirs. The truth about caffeine is somewhere in the middle. We've sorted the myths from the facts about caffeine and headaches.

Fact: Caffeine helps relieve headaches.

Caffeine, the stimulating ingredient in coffee, colas, chocolate, and tea helps people feel more alert and coordinated and less fatigued.  It can also help reduce pain, especially headaches. Studies show that analgesics (pain medicines) work more quickly and efficiently when taken with caffeine. That's why it's a common ingredient in many over-the-counter (and prescription) headache medications like Anacin®, Excedrin®, and Midol®. In fact, it helps relieve pain so well that patients are able to take less medication.

The National Headache Foundation says:

  • Most people feel the effects of caffeine within 30 minutes.
  • Generally, the effects of caffeine last 3 to 5 hours.
  • Adding 130 mg of caffeine to a regular, two-tablet dose of common ingredients found pain relievers (aspirin and acetaminophen) makes them relieve tension-type headache pain about 40% better than they do without caffeine.
  • Caffeine also helps your body absorb these medications, allowing you to get back to your daily life faster.

Fact: Headache Medicines with (and without) caffeine can cause overuse headaches.

Overuse headaches sometimes occur when someone takes headache medicine too frequently. They don't happen very often though. Only one percent of the population is reported to get them and they don't seem to occur more or less frequently when caffeine is included in the medication.

Myth: Caffeine is addictive. 

While many people report having a tough time starting their day without their daily caffeine fix, the American Psychiatric Association says caffeine is actually not addictive and doesn't resemble other addictive drugs that cause physical and social consequences.

  • Significant caffeine abuse has not been reported by any culture in the world.
  • When used according to label directions, headache medicines with caffeine pose no risk of addiction or dependence.

Fact: Caffeine can cause withdrawal headaches.

The average American consumes about 227 mg of caffeine daily. That's about the equivalent of two to three cups of coffee. The National Headache Foundation says, "A person needs to use more than 200 mg of caffeine every day for at least two weeks before they can be diagnosed with a caffeine withdrawal headache." 

People who want to cut back on caffeine should taper off gradually to avoid headaches.

Fact: Caffeine can disrupt your sleep and fatigue can increase headaches.

Consuming caffeine within six hours of bedtime can cause sleep disruption in some people. Many people report headaches when they don't get enough sleep. Time your medication use carefully and talk to your doctor about other pain relieving medications that might not keep you awake at night.


The National Headache Foundation

Caffeine and Headache

The Cleveland Clinic

Caffeine and Headache