I was recently told that I needed to reduce my caffeine intake or do a short period of complete caffeine detox. Not an easy task for a person that runs a coffee blog (and genuinely, deeply loves coffee). But, since I was having a lot of symptoms of drinking too much caffeine, I was willing to put my health first and give it a go.
Easier said than done. Turns out, caffeine withdrawals are pretty intense and cutting caffeine cold turkey can result in any combination of 9 different symptoms – none of which are very fun.
So, if you’re considering cutting caffeine (or being told to do so), I’m here to share with you the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal, as well as some tips that helped me reduce (and even remove) caffeine with less severe withdrawal symptoms.
Caffeine Overload: Can You Drink Too Much Caffeine?
The answer, friends, is sadly – yes. You can drink too much coffee or drinks with caffeine. The amount might vary from person to person, but there are signs that you are drinking too much caffeine. Also, some sources say that no person should consume more than 400mg of caffeine per day, but that amount is going to be even lower for many people.
Caffeine causes your body to release more cortisol, the same thing released when we were cavemen and needed to run away from a wild animal. It triggers our fight or flight reflex and our adrenaline starts pumping. This is great when we’re exhausted from being up all night and need a pick-me-up, but if we are constantly pouring cortisol into our bodies, our adrenal glands can get tired and confused, which can affect our hormone balance as well. This can result in side effects of caffeine like increased anxiety, insomnia, hormonal imbalances, weight gain, getting “the jitters”, and much more.
So, if you’re struggling with any of these things and can’t figure out why you can’t make it stop, it may be time to reduce or remove caffeine. But, just get ready for the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal.
9 Symptoms of Caffeine Withdrawal:
Each person is different, so your version of this hell will be unique to you. But, here are 8 symptoms that you might experience. Keep reading for some tips on how to reduce these symptoms and make it as painless as possible.
1. Severe Headaches:
I had no idea that coffee restricted blood flow to the brain, so when you stop drinking coffee, the blood flow increases and the once narrowed blood vessels open up. This increase can cause headaches of varying intensity and length, depending on how long you’ve gone with the restricted blood flow and how quickly your body adapts to the increase in blood flow.
In my case, this translated to a 3-5 day long headache. It wasn’t quite migraine status, but it was not fun and I didn’t feel that ibuprofen made a huge dent in it. I’ll share soon about what I did to lessen the severity of my headaches from caffeine withdrawal.
I was not expecting this one, because I am not particularly prone to depression (anxiety, yes, depression – not so much). But, I really felt more down than normal. Caffeine is actually a known mood booster and has been linked to lower depression in several studies. So, it would make sense that removing your largest source of caffeine (coffee and tea) is going to result in a case of the blues.
Since coffee and caffeine are stimulants, that can cause a boost in your mood and the removal of the caffeine cause the opposite.
Good news, though, this should level out after a few days as your body adapts to not having the caffeine to make the day seem brighter.
Well, well, if it isn’t my old friend, anxiety. I thought a lot of my anxiety was due to being overcaffeinated, but removing caffeine didn’t seem to greatly reduce my anxiety – at first. For some people, drinking caffeine causes a huge increase in anxiety, because of the boost in cortisol – the stress hormone.
But, for others, like me, the reduction in caffeine is also a simultaneous reduction in sugar – since I use sugar, syrups, creamers and other additives in my coffee. This removal of sugar is what can cause a temporary spike in anxiety, known as the sugar crash. If you’ve ever detoxed from sugar before, you know how tough the first few days can be, because sugar is so highly addicting.
If you drink your coffee black, you may find that this does not affect you as much as it did me. I am happy to report though, that after a brief adjustment period, I felt a lot more calm and level than I had in a long time. The anxiousness that can from the highs and lows of caffeine and sugar intake throughout the day went away and I felt my mind get a lot more quiet.
This alone was worth a lot of the headache involved (literally) in removing caffeine.
4. Brain Fog:
For many of us (me! me!) I wake up and immediately think about my coffee. I make it, enjoy it, and then start to feel ready to take on the day. The act of getting up and not making the coffee was so off-putting to my daily habits, that I found myself struggling to focus in the early parts of the day. This brain fog is another common symptom of caffeine withdrawals.
Caffeine also increases the release of dopamine, which boosts attention levels and and motivation. Therefore, the removal of caffeine can be associated with the opposite: less ability to focus, reduced motivation and more.
I definitely felt this was true, however I did feel that the more I just kept with my daily habits and schedule, the less it would impact me.
Changing our daily habits is difficult even when the habit isn’t directly impacting our mood and energy levels. So, making a huge shift in something like our consumption of caffeine can definitely result in irritability and mood changes.
Since caffeine has such an impact on our moods, through the release of dopamine, the adrenaline boost from cortisol, and much more, the removal of this after we’ve become reliant on it can leave us feeling in a funk – thus, more irritable.
For me, I was anticipating this change and knew why I needed to make it for my health, so this helped me curb a lot of the irritability and anger that can happen – but I certain did feel particularly on edge the first few days as I had to continually tell myself to not drink coffee.
I’ve also grown accustomed to using coffee breaks as a way to decompress and also keep myself and the kids entertained while another kid is at an activity. I got through this by ordering non-caffeinated drinks at Dutch Bros or Starbucks so that I could keep the habit part of our schedule without increasing my caffeine for the day.
Caffeine doesn’t just stimulate our mood – it also gets our digestive system moving. So, stopping caffeine can definitely impact your regularity, and in some cases, cause digestive distress from constipation. Any changes in your digestive system can also result in temporary nausea.
So, if you’re feeling this way from reducing caffeine, consider upping your fiber intake, even artificially with supplements like Benefiber added to your water, to keep things moving. Also, adding a good probiotic to your supplements can help, too.
Also, don’t forget to up your water intake as well, to help flush everything out and keep your body hydrated. This is not a symptom that I felt, because I started upping my fiber, my water intake, and continued to drink my morning celery juice, so you can definitely skirt this one with some planning.
Most of us drink coffee to boost our energy levels and combat fatigue, so it’s a no-brainer that removing that stimulant in the morning and afternoon is going to result in increased fatigue.
Plus, since we develop a tolerance for the effects of caffeine over time, many of us have slowly increased how many cups we reach for in a day, which will cause that crash to be even more significant when we remove the caffeine we’ve become reliant on for energy.
There’s a scientific reason for this, too, since caffeine actually blocks the receptors for adenosine, a neurotransmitter that causes us to feel drowsy. When we remove the caffeine – we start feeling the natural effects more strongly.
Initially, I felt that it was more difficult to perk up in the mornings for sure, but by the afternoon, I wasn’t feeling the highs and lows of caffeine and sugar intake. I felt my energy was more stable throughout the day, which was actually really nice.
Back when I was a teacher, I used to notice tremors if I stopped the flow of caffeine suddenly. This time around, I didn’t experience the tremors and I was grateful for that, lol.
The tremors are the result of caffeine being a central nervous system stimulant, so then removing it can result in anxiety and tremors.
If you are prone to having tremors when you feel really anxious, this is more likely to be a side effect of caffeine withdrawal for you, but if you’re not – this will probably be one you don’t have to worry about.
9. Low Energy:
You may not feel the physical heaviness associated with fatigue, but you might just feel a general sense of low energy or malais. This comes from removing a stimulant that was boosting your mood, increasing your energy levels, and giving you a feeling like you could take on the world.
In fact, the boost in energy is the main reason many of us start drinking coffee and then continue to drink it, increasing the quantities over time.
Removing it will, of course, reverse those effects – at least temporarily. The good news is that over time, our bodies will readjust and begin to find new sources for energy.
You may also find that removing caffeine and sugary drinks will results in some benefits that make the trade-off something you’re willing to live with. In my case, I’ve gone back to drinking caffeine, but in smaller quantities throughout the day. I try to drink coffee only in the morning, but after I’ve had my breakfast smoothie (which is super healthy). Then, I switch to non-caffeinated drinks in the afternoon if I need a boost – and the boost comes from the break/rest I get from making a coffee run and also a sugar boost from whatever flavorings are in the drink.
6 Benefits of Quitting Caffeine:
There are definitely some positives that you may experience. This can help offset the caffeine withdrawal symptoms. Here are just a few of them:
- Whiter teeth – Yup, those whitening toothpastes and strips will actually start to work for you now that you’re removing staining drinks like sodas, coffees and teas.
- Steady energy – No more up and down like a roller coaster, your energy will be your own and it will be steady.
- Better sleep – I found that some of my insomnia was due to consuming more caffeine than I should be and my sleep did improve slightly.
- Weight loss – The increase in cortisol does cause our bodies to accumulate and store fat in the mid-section more readily and it’s harder to get off. By reducing cortisol, our body can balance hormones, which can help us reduce fat storage and reduce the muffin top we all dread.
- Less anxiety – Several people I know quit caffeine simply to reduce anxiety and it worked.
- Slower aging – Caffeine reduces the quantity of collagen that our body creates, so less caffeine = more collagen = more youthful skin and complexion.
So, just like there are benefits to drinking coffee, there are also benefits to moderating your caffeine consumption.
5 Tips for Quitting Caffeine:
Whatever your reasons are for reducing or quitting caffeine, there are ways to make it less painful and to reduce the symptoms that you’re going to experience. Here’s what I did and it really helped reduce the severity of the withdrawal symptoms for me.
1. Get The Facts:
Before you even get started, start charting all the drinks you have every day and figure out how much caffeine they actually have.
I wrote a post with a great graphic that shows how much caffeine is in all types of coffee and tea drinks. So, figure out exactly what you’re dealing with and how much caffeine is going into your system each day.
This will help you create a plan that will be doable for you.
2. Go Slow:
Don’t quit cold turkey, please, unless you have 3 days to lay in bed and complain. I started by reducing my afternoon caffeinated drink. Then, I removed my afternoon caffeine. Then, I started shrinking my morning caffeine drink a little at a time. Then, I switched my coffee to an iced london fog latte. I did that for a week. Then, I backed that down even further until I was drinking decaf chai lattes in the morning. Finally, I cut caffeine entirely for two weeks.
3. Have a Plan:
Have a plan here. Pick up some non-caffeinated drinks that you can reach for, pickup some energy snacks, such as protein bars, that you can use to up your energy when needed.
Be armed with a list of non-caffeinated drinks you can pick up when you really need to do run through a drive through to get the kids a snack or something.
Don’t just wake up and cut caffeine, unless you’re really ready for the symptoms of withdrawal.
Exercise is known to boost a lot of the same things that coffee and caffeinated drinks do. You can really give yourself a mood boost and an adrenaline rush by doing even some light exercise. Plan it into your schedule and make yourself do it, even if you’re feeling low energy.
5. Increase Fiber:
You don’t want slower digestion, so plan for it by upping your fiber. Eat apples, drink green smoothies, up your water with Benefiber, pick up a drink with psyllium husk, etc.
I hope with these tips, you’ll be able to make a plan that will help you reduce your caffeine, let your body heal, and then decide how much or little you can actually have each day without the negative side effects.
While caffeine withdrawal is not fun, it can show you how dependent you have been on caffeine.
MORE INTERESTING COFFEE FACTS:
I love learning more about coffee. If you do, too, you may also like these posts:
- 20 hot facts on the history of Starbucks
- All about “cat poop coffee” – the most expensive coffee in the world
- 30 types of coffee in pictures from A-V!
- 21 crazy coffee facts you won’t believe