This post was originally published in January of 2014. I update it each year based on the feedback on here from our readers. Last updated on October 17th, 2018.
Seems like everyone I know regularly drinks coffee or another form of caffeine. Since everyone is doing it, it must be ok, right?
In this guide to beating your caffeine dependency, you will find:
- Common side affects of caffeine
- Why I quit coffee cold turkey
- Day by day analysis of the first 7 days without caffeine (coffee withdrawal timeline)
- Benefits of 21 days without caffeine
- How to best handle caffeine withdrawal symptoms
- Frequently asked questions
- Alternatives to coffee
Like many people with demanding jobs I used caffeine as a crutch. Also, I truly love the taste of coffee. Nothing better than waking up early on a Saturday, turning on some good tunes, cooking a nice breakfast and then enjoying a home brewed cup of perfection.
For the past 5-6 years I’ve been drinking between 300-500mg of caffeine per day (standard 8oz coffee has ~100mg). My typical workday would be a medium cold press from Caribou Coffee (or home brewed) and then a small coffee/tea in the afternoon to ‘keep productivity high.’
Common side affects of drinking too much coffee:
- Stomach ulcers
- Poor digestion
- Decreased bone density
- Increased muscle tension
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Why did I quit coffee?
I have trouble sleeping and I carry on a lot of tension in my middle upper back and neck – I was curious if caffeine could be my culprit.
Coffee is an expensive habit – especially if you’re buying Starbucks every day. A single $3 coffee per day costs you $1,095 per year. I can think of a few ways I’d rather spend that money…
Anne and I were about to take off on a 15 month trip around the world. Who knows if I could find coffee every day? I’m no fun before my morning coffee, hopefully quitting coffee will help! (you’re welcome Anne!)
In the meantime, a friend of mine works a stressful job and the amount of coffee he has been drinking was starting to affect his health. His doctor said he either needed to quit his job or quit coffee immediately. Yikes.
Lastly, I think like an engineer and need to constantly be tinkering with something. I love experiments especially revolving around my health and productivity.
Why quit now?
Before quitting my desk job at Oracle, I decided to take a 2-week vacation and burn all my remaining vacation days! Since I didn’t need to be productive at work for 2 weeks, I figured that would be a perfect time to ditch caffeine.
Vacation timing worked out so I can spend time with my family for the holidays before heading to Asia for some extended travel. This takes me to Minnesota, Colorado and Arizona. Let’s call it the TOUR DE FAMILY.
As a bonus – I always have a little extra energy while traveling and getting out my daily routine should help me beat the brown devil!
Cold Turkey or slowly wean off?
Some people say it’s better to slowly cut your caffeine consumption down each week until you are fully weaned off – easier on your body and fewer headaches. I’ve tried the “slowly weening off coffee” method and it worked great for a few days… until I had a bad nights sleep before a long day at work… bring on the extra caffeine to compensate, ugh.
Also – I’m impatient by nature and get WAY more excited by big huge goals. So I decided it was all or nothing.
The next question becomes how long does it take to get off coffee. Am I going to be suffering for a month? Am I cut out for this?
The first 7 days after quitting caffeine cold turkey…
Here’s my daily journal. Obviously each person’s quitting coffee timeline will vary based on a bunch of variables. However, the journal is helpful if you have ever asked yourself any of these questions…
- How long does it take to detox from coffee?
- How bad are the quitting coffee side effects?
- Is my headache after quitting coffee normal?
Day 0: Typical day (12/21/13)
Medium cold press from Caribou (my standard morning fix), hot cacao drink, and an afternoon coffee to keep me going.
Estimated Caffeine: 450mg
Hours of sleep: 8hrs
Day 1: Here goes nothing (12/22/13)
Foggy, mild headache started by about 3:00PM. I was irritable, unable to focus, slow moving, and had trouble making routine decisions effectively. Went to bed 3 hours earlier than normal (9:30PM) and didn’t fall asleep until around 4:00AM. Sleep was restless, uncomfortable, half asleep the whole time. The more I thought about it, the less I could relax. Very frustrating.
Woke up at 730AM for a full day of work on day 2.
Estimated Caffeine: 0mg
Hours of sleep: 3.5hrs
Day 2: Feeling withdrawal affects: annoying, but not unbearable (12/23/13)
Woke up for work feeling pretty sluggish but not any worse than a mild hangover. I was completely sober the night before.
Thinking to myself – is this really it? Not so bad…!! I can do this! Little did I know, that seductive she-devil had much more in store for me. I was being punished for almost 6 years of daily coffee. Work was a constant battle to stay awake and push through the pain. I couldn’t believe how one minute I felt fine, and the next my head nodded down right in the middle of an email. WTF?! Then the fun part, left work at 4PM to embark on an 8.5hr travel day from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Keystone, Colorado. Train, Plane, Shuttle van. Headaches and randomly dozing off the whole way. Woke up in the middle of the night sweating profusely, Get these covers off me. Then woke up a couple hours after freezing! Where did I put those covers!? 600mg of Ibuprofen at 1PM and 8PM to take the edge off the headache.
Estimated Caffeine: 10mg (small piece of dark chocolate)
Estimated Sleep: 3hrs in about 7 tiny chunks
Day 3: Everywhere I look, people are enjoying coffee. But not me. (12/24/13)
Worst day. Getting out of bed was a chore, wanted to nap constantly, headaches in FULL FORCE. 600mg of ibuprofen every 5hrs barely kept the headache manageable. Very irritable, impatient, mind was dull. Luckily I was on the go all day long to keep me from randomly falling asleep. Any time I sat down I was done for. Everywhere I looked it seemed as though people were enjoying a hot cup of java, I wanted to quit and put this headache behind me!! My family and I stopped at a local coffee shop in Keystone before heading to lunch; A place I would have drooled over just one week earlier. Everyone ordered their coffee drinks, and then I asked “do you have anything without caffeine? Ugh. The whole day I was off, moody, run down, and mentally dull.
Estimated Caffeine: 20mg (Medium piece of dark chocolate)
Estimated sleep: 5hrs
Day 4: Glorious workout saves the day? (12/25/13)
Woke up feeling slightly more alert and energetic than day 3. Did just answer “how long to break coffee addiction?” I sure hope so. After breakfast I crashed hard and battled between taking a nap or going to workout. Luckily found myself heading to the gym with my dad for a little Christmas workout. Mom stayed back and did hotel room yoga. Workout started out rocky and almost quit after a gnarly headache set in. Turns out this workout was the best decision I’d made since starting this experiment. Well, my endorphin’s helped a fair amount but they only lasted an hour or so. Then it was back to hell. After the workout we took a drive to the top of the continental divide and really got a taste of mother nature. Wow is all I can say. Next was a Christmas feast (bacon wrapped water chestnuts, shrimp, salad, and some local beers). After I got 2 beers in me I felt a little better but only temporary.
Estimated Caffeine: 0mg
Estimated sleep: 5hrs
Day 5: Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? (12/26/13)
Woke up feeling decent thanks to chugging copious amounts of water the night before. Had another nice breakfast, packed up, said good-bye to my wonderful parents. Christmas in Colorado was a success.
On to the most dreaded task of the trip… finalizing my Indian Visa and sending it off. I’ve already spent 25+ hours dealing with this crap and now I have to finish it without caffeine?! What a struggle. Luckily Fedex has workstations with sound proof walls so the staff cannot hear me cussing and sputtering out sentence fragments. 3 hours later I’m out of there. Snag lunch at Chimayo (Chipotle knock off) and a Kombucha before writing this post. No chance I could have attempted writing until today. Not easy but I didn’t get distracted like I often do. Could this be a sign of whats to come? Wrapped up the night at a lovely Sushi Restaurant with my little sister who just finished a 12 hour day at the River Run Keystone rental shop.
Estimated Caffeine: 0mg
Estimated sleep: 7.5hrs
Day 6: Definitely on the upswing (12/27/13)
Woke up feeling refreshed. Every morning seems to be easier than the last. Took a hot vinyasa yoga class at Summit Hot Yoga in Frisco, CO. Felt great when I was finished, but breathing was a challenge at 10,000 feet. Couldn’t believe all the energy I had! I was even tired at normal times (10-11PM). Strange for me since I haven’t been tired before 12AM in years. I could get used to this!
Estimated Caffeine: 0mg
Estimated sleep: 5hrs
Day 7: More in tune with my body (12/28/13)
Didn’t sleep well the night before which I am blaming myself for forgetting to take melatonin before bed. Still woke up feeling alright. After breakfast and rooibos tea, went to the rec center for a full body lift and a nice soak in the hot tub. Started to notice how my energy revolves around food like clockwork (this was not the case with excessive caffeine). After eating I was sluggish for an hour, followed by 3-4 hours of steadily increasing brain power and energy. After the 4 hour mark I would get slightly irritable and blood sugar would drop signaling time to eat! Makes me feel as though I wasn’t taking good care of my body all those years…
Estimated Caffeine: 0mg
Estimated sleep: 5hrs
21-days without coffee – realized benefits:
- No headaches
- No tension in my upper middle back
- Improved concentration
- Better sleep and feel more alert in the morning
- More regular and healthy bowel movements
- Tired at more normal times (can fall asleep by 11PM instead of 1AM)
- Increased awareness of the messages my body is sending – example: I’m hungry at normal times and I notice increased effects of food choices (both healthy and un-healthy). Crazy to think I didn’t notice the extreme affects of caffeine affecting my stomach and hunger schedule for so long.
- More patient/relaxed when decision making
Caffeine intake since day 1:
Day 16: Small green tea – 30mg of caffeine. Mild caffeine affects, but very manageable, interesting to identify the affects on such a low does as I was taking 10-15x that amount every day for 5+ years.
Day 21: Medium Cacao drink – contains theobromine, guessing to be the equivalent of 50mg of caffeine although it is much more calm and focused instead of speedy caffeine feelings. I recommend Organic Raw Cacao by Heathworks. PS: I was drinking Cacao while I wrote the majority of this post!
How to survive Caffeine Withdrawal
- Drink tons of water
- Warm lemon water first thing in the morning (half a lemon)
- Ibprofen 2x daily during days 2-5 (600mg took the edge off significantly)
- Chewable Melatonin 40 minutes before desired bedtime (helps you sleep by resetting your circadian rhythm
- Positive attitude – it won’t be fun, you will have coffee detox symptoms, and you may notice your normal upbeat personality dulled for the first 5 days. Don’t worry it will pass and you will feel better than ever soon
- Tell your friends/family/etc – let them know what you’re going with, they will take it easier on you and support your challenge.
- Eat lots of fruit! Apples and oranges were perfect
- Meditate before bed
- WORK OUT – you won’t feel like it, but after the first 10mins of warming up, you’ll hit auto pilot and feel infinitely better when you’re done (my workouts were around 10k feet above sea level in Keystone, Colorado which added the challenge of thin air)
- If possible, pick a start date where your routine is already going to be mixed up a bit (for example: planned days off work, camping trip, vacation)
Random thoughts after beating caffeine dependency…
Although the first 5 days were not fun, it wasn’t unbearable. If you’re thinking about giving it a shot, you have my support! I sincerely wish I would’ve conquered this sooner. If you’re still on the fence, here are 10 more reasons to quit coffee.
Without caffeine I actually feel more alert during the day, especially in the morning. I haven’t experienced the dreaded “2PM crash” either. I can also hear what my body is telling me without caffeine interfering – this has led to an increase in the desire to eat healthy as I’m more sensitive to both good and bad foods.
Frequently asked questions
- How long to detox from coffee? Most people see detox symptom relief starting around days 3-4
- How long does it take to quit coffee? First 3 days coming off coffee is the hardest. Stay mentally tough through the beginning and then it gets much easier!
- Is there a standard quitting coffee timeline? Every body is unique and thus breaking caffeine will be different for everyone. That being said, most people who report their experience to me share a similar timeline as I posted above.
- What are the side effects of quitting coffee? Everyone reacts differently, however most people have trouble sleeping, feel dull and irritable, hard to focus, and sometimes sluggish bowels .
- Not sure I can quit cold turkey, how long does it take to wean off coffee? I have never successfully weaned off coffee slowly. It starts out great but at the first sign of “needing energy” I jump right back on the train. This is why I decided cold turkey was the way for me.
Alternatives to Coffee
I’m proud to say that it’s been over 4 years since I quit coffee! During this time, I got very into tea. I’ve found that tea fulfills the same desire that coffee did, however, tea is a superior alternative to coffee for 2 reasons…
- Tea is not acidic like coffee – no stomach issues!
- Tea has much less caffeine than coffee – no sleep problems and no muscle tension!
Here are my favorite brands & types of tea
Links take you to Amazon which is where I buy my tea.
- Puerh Tea – My go to black tea. Mild and earthy taste.
- Organic Raw Cacao – that’s right, I’m talking about the base ingredient for chocolate! Raw Cacao powder is a powerful antioxidant, stimulant, and quite bitter. The Aztec’s loved Cacao so much they called it the “food of the gods.” Perfect in smoothies, or you can prepare it like hot chocolate with a little honey or agave to sweeten it up.
- Yerba Mate – A tea traditional enjoyed by gathering in a circle with your friends and drinking out of a gourd. The tradition was started in South America, however Yerba Mate is regularly available all over the world. Get a combo pack with Gourd.
- Black Tea – my favorite type is Earl Grey. Here’s a cheap option & a mid range option.
- Matcha green tea – a high end type of green tea that comes in a finely ground powder form. The tea dissolves into your hot water which increases the health benefits because you ingest the tea. Full flavor. Also works great in smoothies. I’m just getting into Matcha, don’t have a favorite brand yet.
*Tea recommendations? please comment below or email me TheYogaNomads@gmail.com!
Tea accessories I love
- French Press – the most efficient way to make loose tea. Love this one by Kona.
- Tea Pot – some like stainless steel others prefer cast iron
- Combined Tea Pot + Steeper – The all in one tea machine.
- Tea infuser – works for a single cup of tea. My least favorite way to make tea.
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Thanks for reading! I hope this helped you learn how to get rid of coffee addiction in your life!