If you’re here you’re probably already aware of something: giving up caffeine is going to suck. I knew that quitting caffeine wasn’t going to be easy but it still took me three or four tries before I finally kicked the habit.
There are some rare individuals out there who can drink 10 cups of coffee per day or 0 with no real difference. I was not one of them. I was drinking 3-4 energy drinks a day to feel normal and, if I didn’t have that much caffeine, I was left fighting a crushing headache, terrible lethargy, and maybe even some gut issues.
Luckily, there are several things that you can do to make your withdrawals shorter and less severe. None of these are going to make everything magically better but I know I’d take a mild headache for a couple of days over a weeklong migraine anytime!
If you’re looking for a more serious and involved route for detoxing, the following articles will help you get your energy back faster so you can get to feeling better than ever!
Understand what’s in store when you give up caffeine:
Humans have an unbelievable capacity to endure. Now, I’m not saying you’re Ernest Shakleton or anything but I’m sure you can endure some caffeine withdrawals. It’s just going to be miserable.
One of the best indicators of how well you can cope with suffering is if you know how long it’s going to last. For example, if you know that the rest of your life will be great, it really doesn’t matter how bad today sucks.
So, how long do caffeine withdrawals last? Well if you quit caffeine cold turkey without any supplementation or change in diet, it can take up to 30 days (in my experience) for things to return roughly to normal. In some instances, people report continuing to improve for 2-3 months after quitting. How’s that for depressing? However, if you put it off, you’re only delaying the inevitable as your caffeine tolerance increases as well as your symptoms.
No matter long it’s going to take for you, let’s get this ball rolling so you can take your life back!
Tip #1: Slowly Taper Off of Caffeine
The jury is still out on whether it is better to quit caffeine cold turkey or taper off slowly but here is the summary: while tapering off you will have reduced symptoms (obviously, since there is caffeine still in your system) but it will lengthen the total recovery time because your body will still have to return to baseline once you have zero caffeine intake.
My general advice would be to avoid a long tapering protocol unless you have become tolerant to a large amount of caffeine. A long tapering period is just like pulling a bandaid off slowly. However, it might very well be the key to a successful caffeine detox.
How to taper off of caffeine: If you have been indulging in lots of caffeine (like 600+mg) then you might benefit from cutting your dose down bit by bit. Start off by getting some caffeine pills and talking half of your typical dose for 2-3 days, then half the amount again for an additional 2-3 days.
If you’re trying to quit coffee specifically, switch to half decaf and half regular strength coffee, then to decaf.
Tip #2: Stay Hydrated
One of the main reasons people think they need more caffeine is simply because they are dehydrated. I went through a period where Coke Zero was my caffeine of choice. I would get it in the 44 or 52oz foam cups at Maverick and it wouldn’t last me more than a couple of hours.
When I quit caffeine, I didn’t have a non-caffeinataed alternative ready to go. As a result, I didn’t get nearly enough liquid and ended up lethargic and (TMI warning) constipated. If you’re feeling sluggish and low on energy, drink 16 oz of cold water and you should be back in action within 20 minutes or so!
Tip #3: Get lots of sleep
Adenosine is a nucleoside (a “brain juice” to us non-technical people) that makes you feel tired. It builds up throughout the day as your body produces ATP and then breaks it down for energy. While you are awake, your body is breaking down ATP faster than it can convert Adenosine back to more ATP so you get tired.
When you are asleep, however, the scales tip and your expenditure of ATP drops, meaning the excess of adenosine in your body is decreased. Caffeine functions by mimicking Adenosine and blocking the receptors that are looking for it, making you feel more tired. If you consume lots of caffeine you have developed some level of tolerance, meaning that your body recognizes that the amount of Adenosine it’s producing isn’t enough to make you tired so it ramps of production of both Adenosine and its corresponding receptors.
When you quit coffee or go off of caffeine entirely, that massive cascade of Adenosine is no longer blocked and you hit the wall of tiredness. I hit it hard. Getting a good night’s sleep and taking a nap during the day gives you the best chance of keeping your ATP levels high and the excess Adenosine to a minimum.
Tip #4: Treat your Symptoms
If you’ve never experienced the lethargy or headaches that come from caffeine detox it may be hard to understand why people fail. If you let your symptoms run unchecked, you will likely fail. Your symptoms are simply your body’s way fo telling you that IT NEEDS CAFFEINE! However, your body is mainly interested in keeping you in homeostasis because it thinks that’s the best way to survive. Luckily, your massive brain knows that there is a better way than simply surviving and you don’t need caffeine to help run your day.
So don’t listen to your body.
Treating your symptoms will make quitting coffee more bearable which, in turn, makes it more likely that you will succeed. Don’t be afraid to take something for your headache, get some probiotics for your out of whack stomach flora, etc.
It also may also be that the best cure for your symptoms is for you to take a small amount of caffeine. If your headache or other issues are so miserable that it’s either get rid of them or drink a gallon of coffee, take the more moderate route and have a small amount of caffeine with some ibuprofen.
Tip #5. Use Caffeine Alternatives
The main reason that people fail while detoxing from caffeine is that they need a mental/physical edge to get through “X”. For example, I’m totally fine detoxing from caffeine if I’m home by myself without any deadlines. But if I have to give a presentation at work, you better believe that I’ll be looking for that caffeinated-mental-edge.
So, before thinking you could never be enough without caffeine/coffee, let’s look at an alternative to keep you on point both mentally and physically. Lightly caffeinated teas such as Yerba Mate can be helpful and there are several other brain-boosting stimulants on the market that can help you out.
Personally I find that good nutrition, exercise, and quality sleep are the most effective caffeine alternatives.
Tip #6: Supplement Properly to Address Deficiencies
Unfortunately, many people suffer unnecessarily when they quit caffeine, unaware that they could be using a simple supplementation routine to both treat their symptoms and expedite their body’s recovery. In fact, we’ve even heard of people suffering for weeks or months with brain fog and lethargy after quitting caffeine. If you are not doing much better within 10 days of quitting caffeine, odds are you have a deficiency that is holding you back!
There are several supplements on the market that can help but, honestly, you’re better off buying only what you need. Check out the list we recommend in our Detox Guide (don’t worry, it’s free).
Tip #7: Don’t Slack on Exercise
I know, I know, exercise is probably the last thing you want to do when you’re feeling run-down and going through caffeine withdrawals. It will make you feel better though. Exercise releases the body’s natural “feel good” hormones which can both energize you and improve your mood. Both of which are more likely to help you stay on track!
Tip #8. Have an Alternative Habit
Many people have trained their bodies to crave coffee when they are tired. In their body’s perception, “I get tired, I get coffee, I feel better.” So if you want to succeed, it is best to have a comparable alternative to replace your favorite caffeine source. Decaf Coffee is the most basic level of this, but you can replace your habit of drinking coffee with anything from soda to chewing gum (don’t choose the soda).
This is especially important if caffeine is part of your work-flow. For example, I have been self-employed since I was 24 and, for the first 5 years or so, caffeine was a huge part of my business. If I needed to get something done, I drank something caffeinated first so I could give it my full focus and attention.
When it came to my attention that, even with huge amounts of caffeine, I was no longer able to operate at a high level, I decided to detox. However, I had to fully overhaul my personal business processes to skip the mental need for the “coffee-step.”
Tip #9: Tell people around you
Sharing a goal helps! The more people that know and hold you accountable, the less likely you are to fail.
Also, be sure to warn your spouse that you might be crabby. If I decide to detox and don’t tell my wife, she usually asks me what is wrong with me within a day. While everyone reacts differently, lack of caffeine makes me tired, and being tired makes me crabby. Luckily, I have an amazing wife who will deal with me being a grouch for a day or two if I warn her beforehand. In addition to dealing with my symptoms (which also affect her life…), she is able to remind me and keep me on track when I “accidentally” order a Baja Blast at Taco Bell.
Tip# 10: Choose Your Start Date Carefully
Whatever anyone says about caffeine, there is no doubt that it improves short term performance. This has been proven time and time again and every coffee/caffeine drinker has experienced it first hand. It follows, that when you stop, your performance level will drop, probably even lower than it was pre-caffeine until your body can regulate.
Since I need to be at my best while at work, I try to minimize the time I’ll be at work in a lethargic and grumpy state. If you have a holiday coming up, that might be your best time but, if you’re like me and don’t want to ruin a good holiday, the weekend should be sufficient. I typically stop taking any caffeine source by 3:00 on a Thursday. Friday’s are a slow day at work for me so it’s alright for me to be a bit tired as I ramp up to days two on three on Saturday and Sunday. If I’ve been keeping up with my supplements and diet, I’ll usually in okay enough shape by the time Monday rolls around to handle things at work.
So put down that mug!
If you’ve been waiting to get a little push to give up caffeine/coffee, now is the time! No, coffee isn’t bad for you and caffeine is not evil. But I can tell you from personal experience that I feel much, much better when I’m taking in minimal or moderate amounts of caffeine. Hopefully, these tips will be enough to help you quit coffee and give up caffeine for good! Best of luck!