- Caffeine: Tips for Breaking the Habit
- 3 easy ways to cut down on caffeine (without going into withdrawal)
- How To Cut Out Caffeine Like A Grown Ass Woman, According To An Expert
- 10 Ways to Start Your Day Without Caffeine
- 20 Awesome Benefits of Quitting Caffeine or Coffee
- 1. Break the Addiction
- 2. Financial Savings
- 3. Lower Blood Pressure
- 4. Better Sleep
- 5. Better Mood
- 6. Decreased Anxiety
- 7. Fewer Headaches
- 8. Convenience
- 9. Fewer Trips to the Bathroom
- 10. Healthier Teeth
- 11. Weight Loss
- 12. Healthier Diet
- 13. Cleaner Environment
- 14. Caffeine Will Work Again
- 15. Possible Drug Interactions
- 16. No More Jitters
- 17. Less Risk of Cardiac Events
- 18. Increased Productivity
- 19. Reduced Type 2 Diabetes Risk
- 20. Better Health
- Should You Quit?
Caffeine: Tips for Breaking the Habit
What is caffeine?
Caffeine is a bitter, white substance that occurs naturally in more than 60 plants, including coffee beans, tea leaves and cacao pods (used to make chocolate). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers caffeine to be both a food additive and a drug.
The most common sources of caffeine for most people are coffee, tea, soda and chocolate. The amount of caffeine in foods and drinks varies. For coffee and tea, the amount of caffeine per cup depends on the brand, the type of beans or leaves used, how it is prepared and how long it steeps. Most soda pops, not only colas, contain caffeine. Energy drinks are growing in popularity, particularly among teens and young adults. The caffeine content of these drinks ranges from 60 mg to more than 250 mg per serving.
Caffeine is the main ingredient in over-the-counter (non-prescription) stimulants that reduce fatigue (tiredness), increase alertness or give an energy boost. It is also added to other over-the-counter and prescription medications.
What effects does caffeine have on the body?
Caffeine passes into the bloodstream from the stomach and small intestine. Once in the bloodstream, caffeine stimulates the central nervous system — the nerves, brain and spinal cord — to make you feel more awake and alert. Caffeine reduces fatigue and improves focus and concentration. It also causes the release of acid in the stomach, and some people report heartburn or indigestion after consuming caffeine.
The effects of caffeine can be felt as soon as 15 minutes after it is consumed. The level of caffeine in the blood peaks about 1 hour later and stays at this level for several hours for most people. Six hours after caffeine is consumed, half of it is still in the body. It can take up to 10 hours to completely clear caffeine from the bloodstream.
How is caffeine used in medications?
Caffeine is a common ingredient in many prescription and over-the-counter headache remedies, pain relievers and cold medicines. Through caffeine’s effects on the central nervous system, it helps these drugs act more effectively — and helps the body absorb headache medicines more quickly.
If you are concerned about your caffeine intake, read the product label on over-the-counter medications or the information sheet that comes with prescriptions to determine whether a medication contains caffeine. The FDA requires that the medication labels list the amount of caffeine they contain.
Caffeine is also found in some herbal products that people take as supplements, including guarana, yerba mate, kola nut and green tea extract. These products are not required by law to show their caffeine content on the label, and there is no set standard for caffeine content.
How much caffeine is too much?
The average American adult consumes 200 mg of caffeine a day. This is the equivalent of two 5-ounce cups of coffee or four 12-oz. colas. Consuming up to 400 mg or four cups of coffee, does not cause problems for most people. But caffeine affects people differently, depending on their size, gender and sensitivity to it. In people who are sensitive to caffeine, even moderate amounts can cause insomnia (trouble sleeping), rapid heart rate, anxiety and feelings of restlessness. Health and nutrition experts agree that consuming more than 600 mg of caffeine a day (equivalent of four to seven cups of coffee) is too much.
Teenagers and young adults often drink energy drinks and/or large amounts of strong coffee, putting them at risk of consuming too much caffeine.
What are the symptoms of having too much caffeine?
Symptoms of having too much caffeine include:
- Headache, nervousness, dizziness
- Having “the jitters” or feeling shaky
- Insomnia or sleep that is ‘on and off’ throughout the night
- Racing heart or abnormal heartbeat
- Increase in blood pressure
Can an individual develop an addiction to caffeine?
Many people develop a tolerance for caffeine. This means that their body gets used to having caffeine every day. Over time, they must keep increasing their caffeine intake to achieve the desired effects of alertness and ability to concentrate.
What are some tips for breaking the caffeine habit?
Cut down slowly on the amount of caffeine in your diet. If you have developed a dependence on caffeine, an abrupt cutback can cause headache, fatigue, difficulty concentrating and even flu-like nausea and muscle pain. These symptoms are called ‘caffeine withdrawal.’ In general, the more caffeine you are used to consuming, the more severe withdrawal symptoms are likely to be. Symptoms of withdrawal begin 12 to 24 hours after the last caffeine intake and can last 2 to 9 days.
People who want to cut down on caffeine often make the mistake of stopping totally. When they experience withdrawal symptoms, they go back to drinking coffee or cola or taking a headache medication with caffeine in it to make the symptoms disappear. This starts the dependency cycle all over again. Avoiding the withdrawal symptoms is one of the most common reasons why people continue their caffeine habit.
To successfully reduce your caffeine intake, gradually reduce the amount of coffee, tea, soda and energy drinks you have each day. Begin to substitute cold caffeinated beverages with water. Water is a healthy choice and satisfies the need for drinking a liquid. Water also naturally flushes caffeine from your body and keeps you hydrated.
If you are a coffee drinker, gradually switch from regular coffee to decaf. First alternate between decaf and regular, then slowly change to more decaf and taper off regular coffee. Gradually reducing your caffeine consumption over a period of 2 to 3 weeks will help you successfully change your habit without causing withdrawal symptoms.
Share Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Email Get useful, helpful and relevant health + wellness information enews
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
3 easy ways to cut down on caffeine (without going into withdrawal)
The Caffeine Trap
Like you, I too enjoy a coffee when I’m out and about. That aroma is so enticing and the adrenaline hit is just wonderful. Plus it’s a great way to catch up with friends or colleagues, especially when you’re pressed for time.
However, the caffeine trap is a slow, insidious one. You start out sipping a short black in the morning. Then one day, you realise you need four of them just to get through your day (or eight instant coffees), as one of my friends discovered. May as well put in a coffee drip!
How much caffeine is safe?
Caffeine acts on the central nervous system, speeding up the heartbeat and rate of breathing, dilating blood vessels and relaxing smooth muscles. It boosts alertness and concentration and overcomes the perception of fatigue – key reasons for its enduring popularity in our fast-paced world.
Most of us can handle around 300mg of caffeine a day without problems. This translates to 4 or 5 cups of instant coffee or 3 shots of espresso (a latte, short black or cappuccino all start with a shot) although it’s all very variable. See here for my list of how much caffeine is in drinks and foods.
Caffeine and weight loss
Caffeine either in coffee or in caffeine tablets has often been touted as an aid to weight loss but is it really? There is no rigorous scientific evidence to show that it is. The Mayo Clinic says that it may suppress your appetite and it may stimulate fat-burning but that neither of these effects is large enough to make a real difference to your weight. In some people, caffeine can act as a diuretic, meaning they have increased urination and so lose fluid and thus weight but it’s not the sort of weight loss you want and it’s only temporary. If you’re drinking coffee for weight loss then your wasting your time.
Kick the habit in 3 gradual steps
If you figure you’re a caffeine junkie for whatever reason, or you just cut want to cut back, here’s how to do it.
Don’t go ‘cold turkey’ as you’ll trigger the caffeine withdrawal syndrome – throbbing headaches, tiredness, yawning and lethargy which lasts for a couple of days but is bad enough to send you screaming back to caffeine. The headache is a killer, believe me. The trick is to cut back gradually to allow your body to adapt. Here’s how:
1. Cut out one cup of coffee or one can of energy drink each day. Start on a weekend or on holidays when you won’t be under pressure. Begin by dropping an afternoon or evening caffeine. Plan to have your last by 4pm so the caffeine can work itself through your system before bedtime. Do this for a week to get your body used to less, for example:
Week 1: cut out your afternoon coffee i.e. no caffeine after 4pm
Week 2: cut out any coffee with, or after, lunch i.e. no caffeine after 12 noon
2. Aim to cut your overall intake by half long term, or until you have reached a level you’re comfortable with and don’t have sleepless nights or shaky hands. You don’t have to give up coffee entirely (thank goodness), just enough to reduce the side effects, depending on your sensitivity.
3. A common goal is to keep cutting back until you drink no more than 3 cups of instant coffee or one or two café espressos a day. Switch to no or lower caffeine options when you can for example:
- Caffeine-free alternatives
- Decaf coffee
- Decaf tea
- Herbal infusion, especially after dinner when you’re looking for a good night’s sleep. I like to sip a big mug of ginger or peppermint tea or one of the sleep blends
- How about a rooibus (red tea) instead? It tastes almost like tea but has no caffeine.
- Try a coffee substitute (made from roasted barley, chicory or dandelion root) e.g. Caro, Ecco, Dandelion tea. They look pretty much like fine instant coffee but with a milder flavour. Not bad with milk.
- Lemon squash, ginger beer, lemonade, or other non-cola soft drink
Lower caffeine alternatives
- Regular tea or green tea which have one-half to one-third the caffeine of coffee
- A hot chocolate makes an easy and socially acceptable alternative
- A can of cola soft drink has around half the caffeine of an energy drink (not a healthy choice but keeps your caffeine intake down)
Don’t be fooled by guarana. It’s just another plant that’s a source of caffeine. Yes, it’s natural but then so are coffee beans and tea leaves. Yerba maté is another drink high in caffeine.
How To Cut Out Caffeine Like A Grown Ass Woman, According To An Expert
Most of us can’t imagine getting out of bed or making it through our morning meetings without a kickstart from caffeine, whether in the form of coffee, tea, soda, or an energy drink. In fact, USA Today reported in 2013 that around 83 percent of Americans drink coffee, and many people consider caffeine the most popular drug in the U.S. Consuming caffeine, which is classified as a stimulant, on a regular basis does have some health benefits — including memory-boosting properties, helping with alertness, and it can improve your attention span. Some studies suggest regularly consuming caffeine may even help lower your risk of getting certain types of cancer and illnesses, according to the American Cancer Society. However, drinking too much caffeine, especially if you’re sensitive to it, can negatively impact your health. If you don’t like how caffeine makes you feel, but don’t know how to get it out of your life, there are ways to cut out caffeine without feeling awful.
“In excess, caffeine for those that are sensitive can result in side effects such as increased heart rate (no good for someone with hypertension), feelings of anxiety, insomnia, decreased desire for food, increased thirst and heartburn,” Maya Feller, a registered dietician, tells Bustle. “Reducing one’s caffeine intake can ameliorate the aforementioned symptoms.”
Feller explains the best way to reduce your caffeine intake is by taking baby steps, and not to suddenly quit cold turkey. “Coming off caffeine is just like coming off any other drug. For some people they will feel the effects of caffeine in as little as 10 minutes, and like any drug, the body becomes accustomed to the feeling and eventually wants more. In order to not send the body into withdrawal — which is very uncomfortable— I would suggest a step down approach,” she says.
So, what exactly would a step down approach look like? Feller explains, “For two days, reduce 1/4 of your caffeinated beverage, and replace with a decaf beverage. For example, if you consume energy drinks, cut the serving size by ¼. Or, if you drink coffee, make a mixture of decaf and regular caf.” After that, Feller tells Bustle you can cut down your caffeine by fifty percent, and then, at day five, you should me able to make a smooth switch to a 75 percent reduction in your caffeine intake.
Furthermore, since drinking coffee is an essential part of a morning routine for many of us, Feller also suggests “maintaining the warm morning beverage ritual while modifying the caffeine content.” Or, for those who drink caffeinated soda or an energy drink, Feller says to try to drink something with a “similar mouth feel,” like a seltzer water. If you’re an ice coffee baby, ask your barista for the decaf version of your favorite drink. Basically, trying to replicate your morning coffee (or bubbly drink) ritual will help ease any trouble you experience when transitioning to a caffeine-free life.
Though there are definitely health benefits to cutting out caffeine, it’s totally normal to feel some side effects if you are used to drinking a lot of it. “For some, the side effects of quitting coffee can range from mild to intense. They may experience depressed mood, anxiety, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating,” explains Feller. Not to mention, some people who quit caffeine report experiencing mild to severe headaches, which doesn’t sound pleasant at all.
If you’re freaking out about the potential withdrawal symptoms of cutting out your cup of joe, there are ways to make the switch to a caffeine-free lifestyle less grueling. “To ease the symptoms, stay well hydrated with caffeine free beverages. Also, be sure to have regular balanced meals that will help keep blood sugars level while nourishing you.” She adds that practicing good sleep hygiene and exercising to give you a boost of endorphins can also help alleviate some of the symptoms you can experience when you quit caffeine.
As far as quitting caffeine goes, slow and steady wins the race. If you are looking to lower your caffeine intake, or cut it out altogether, make sure you do so in a healthy way by reducing your intake little by little.
10 Ways to Start Your Day Without Caffeine
We all know the feeling — waking up groggy after not enough sleep or poor-quality sleep, only to be slammed with a full day of obligations. It’s only natural to reach for that cup of coffee as a pick-me-up. In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep in America poll, 43 percent of Americans are “very likely” to consume caffeine to stay alert during the day.
And new research indicates that your caffeine addiction may well be genetic: Scientists recently discovered that people with certain gene variations drank about 40 extra milligrams of coffee a day — the amount in an 8-ounce can of Diet Coke — compared to people with different versions of the genes.
Whether in coffee, tea, soda, or chocolate, caffeine helps improve alertness and can help you feel more awake by increasing adrenaline levels while lowering the chemicals that encourage sleep. Unfortunately, your daytime jolt of joe might actually be sabotaging your attempts to get a good night’s sleep.
Caffeine as a Stimulant
While caffeine can give you a jolt almost immediately, it stays in the body for hours. In fact, it takes six hours for just half of the caffeine ingested to make its way out of the body. This essentially makes any caffeine-filled beverage or food enjoyed after noon a potential culprit in sleep problems.
Anyone getting more than 250 milligrams of caffeine per day (three eight-ounce cups of coffee), which is considered moderate, could be at risk for caffeine-related sleep problems. Symptoms of too much caffeine consumption include insomnia, anxiety, irritability, headaches, nervousness, and rapid heartbeat.
There are two ways to approach reducing your dependence on caffeine. The first is simple: Consume less of it. The second is a more holistic approach. “I concentrate on patients achieving better-quality sleep. Sleeping seven to eight hours is enough for most people to solve their sleep problem and not feel the need to jump-start their day,” says David C. Brodner, MD, medical director of the Center for Sleep, Allergy, and Sinus Wellness in Boynton Beach, Fla.
10 Steps to Ease Caffeine Withdrawal
Here are ways to cut down on your caffeine consumption:
- Know your ingredients. Study the ingredients on foods and drinks and watch out for caffeine. Caffeine is added to many sodas and energy drinks.
- Decrease caffeine consumption gradually. Plan your caffeine withdrawal in stages. “Caffeine is addictive. If you throw out one-third of your morning coffee today, wait three days and then throw out another bit so you are drinking half, you are off to a great start,” says Susan Roberts, PhD, professor of nutrition at Tufts University and author of The “I” Diet. “If you want to give it up completely, just keep going in steps.” This reduction will help lessen caffeine withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, irritability, jitteriness, and nausea.
- Water down drinks that contain caffeine. They will still have the taste you enjoy, but contain a lower amount of caffeine and carry less risk of caffeine withdrawal symptoms.
- Try something new. Consider changing from coffee in the morning to tea. “Herbal teas are fine, but green tea is really healthy,” says Roberts.
- Try decaf. Switch to decaf coffee, decaffeinated soda, or even better, water or fruit juices.
- Don’t add to a caffeine habit. Ask yourself if you really need that extra cup in the late morning. If the answer is no, then skip it.
- Try a tea shortcut. Brew tea for a shorter amount of time to reduce the amount of caffeine in it.
- Instead of a large cup of coffee, next time order a small. “Starbucks medium and large both contain two shots of espresso, while a small has only one,” says Dr. Brodner. “Another caution: Even those sugary milkshake drinks contain caffeine.” Ask to have yours made with decaf.
- Mix it up. Alternate one cup of coffee with one cup of herbal tea, or one can of soda with one can of caffeine-free soda or water.
- Check your pain reliever. Many over-the-counter medications, especially headache remedies and menstrual pain relievers, contain caffeine. If yours does, change to a different kind.
Between cutting back on caffeine consumption and getting a better night’s sleep, it is certainly possible to not only survive, but to thrive without a daily caffeine fix.
20 Awesome Benefits of Quitting Caffeine or Coffee
Billions of people worldwide drink coffee or some form of caffeine every day.
Although caffeine is generally accepted as safe for consumption in moderation, there are some solid benefits to breaking the habit and quitting coffee, energy drinks, tea, soda, etc..
1. Break the Addiction
For most people, caffeine is an addictive substance to some degree, although some would describe it as even highly addictive.
Dependence on a substance to function normally or to even stay awake becomes a vicious cycle. Caffeine changes our brain’s chemistry resulting in the need for more of the substance to achieve the desired effects.
Quitting caffeine or coffee breaks the cycle and frees us from needing a daily drug to function normally.
If you want to reduce your caffeine intake (or quit entirely), here’s how:
1.Download our book Awake(it’s free).
2. Do the Overcoming Caffeine Withdrawal course at Udemy.
3. Use the Wean Caffeine supplement (something we helped get to market). It helps you avoid the painful withdrawal symptoms that often come when quitting caffeine abruptly.
2. Financial Savings
The cost of a caffeine addiction can really add up, thus thousands of dollars a year could be saved by quitting.
Lendingtree.com has a helpful calculator that shows you exactly how much you’re spending on your beverage of choice.
Above we have listed the average cost of just one beverage a day, now multiply that by the number you have each day and it quickly adds up.
Two Starbucks Lattes per day would cost $2,811 a year!
3. Lower Blood Pressure
Caffeine can raise your blood pressure a few points and even more in some people.1
Quitting coffee or caffeine can lower your blood pressure and keep your heart from working as hard.
4. Better Sleep
Caffeine can greatly reduce the amount and quality of a person’s sleep.2 Drinking coffee or energy drinks too late in the day can interfere with getting to sleep quickly since the half-life of caffeine is 4-6 hours.
Even people who have no caffeine after twelve noon report better quality of sleep after quitting caffeine.
5. Better Mood
Caffeine alters the mood. Many people report being grumpy until they’ve had their morning coffee and others feel lethargic when the caffeine begins to wear off in the afternoon.
Probably everyone has been around a grumpy person who hasn’t had their caffeine yet. Medical Daily does a good job of summarizing the research behind this.
Quitting can even out the ups and downs.
6. Decreased Anxiety
Many people report that caffeine increases their anxiety levels. This has to do with how caffeine affects the adenosine receptors in our brain and because caffeine stimulates the adrenal glands.3
Quitting coffee or caffeine can make you feel less anxious, especially if you are prone to anxiety issues.
7. Fewer Headaches
Caffeine is a major trigger for headaches. Any alteration in your normal daily caffeine consumption can result in a caffeine withdrawal headache.
Caffeine can also be a migraine trigger so people prone to migraines should avoid caffeine.
- Imagine never having to stop at Starbucks on the way to work?
- Imagine never having to stop by the convenience store for a Red Bull?
- Imagine erasing making coffee from your morning routine?
- Imagine a backpacking trip without packing caffeine pills or the extra weight of coffee making equipment?
Being addicted to coffee, energy drinks, or soda creates inconvenience in our lives since we must have the drug to function normally.
9. Fewer Trips to the Bathroom
Caffeinated beverages cause us to urinate more often and in some people can even cause incontinence.
Caffeine also stimulates the smooth muscle tissue of the colon, which causes it to contract.
This can be challenging during meetings, road trips, or when bathrooms aren’t convenient.
Quitting can reduce the need to use the bathroom as often, especially in the mornings.
10. Healthier Teeth
Coffee and tea stain teeth and acidic & sweet energy drinks or sodas erode tooth enamel which causes tooth decay more readily.
Eliminating these beverages results in whiter and healthier teeth.
11. Weight Loss
Unless you drink your coffee black. Caffeinated beverages generally add empty calories to our diets that we don’t really need.
Many experts say that sugary beverages are a huge component of the obesity epidemic plaguing the western world.4
A study from Victoria University found that when caffeine is in a sugary beverage it causes people to consume more of that sugary beverage compared to a sugary beverage without caffeine.5
- Quitting just a one Monster Energy Drink/day habit saves 200 calories per day, 1,400 calories a week, or 73,000 calories a year!
- Quitting just 1 Starbucks Vanilla Latte/day saves 250 calories per day, 1,750 calories a week, or 91,250 calories a year!
- Quitting a 16 fl.oz. Coke/day habit saves 239 calories a day, 1,673 calories a week, or 87,235 calories a year!
1 pound of fat contains the equivalent of 3500 calories, so do the math…
12. Healthier Diet
Bottled coffees, teas, energy drinks, and sodas often contain an assortment of preservatives designed to give them a longer shelf-life.
These preservatives can have adverse health effects and some are even banned by some countries.
Sugar-free energy drinks and sodas contain artificial sweeteners that also can negatively affect our health.
Cutting these out of your diet can be beneficial to one’s overall long-term good health.
13. Cleaner Environment
Caffeine addiction places a tremendous strain on our natural resources. Just think of the number of plastic bottles, cans, and cups that have to be produced in order to meet the demand.
“Americans discard about 33.6 million tons of plastic each year, but only 6.5 percent of it is recycled and 7.7 percent is combusted in waste-to-energy facilities, which create electricity or heat from garbage. The rest ends up in landfills where it may take up to 1,000 years to decompose..” – State of The Planet
Also, caffeine has been showing up in municipal water supplies because of all the discarded coffee grounds.
Quitting caffeine reduces your environmental footprint.
14. Caffeine Will Work Again
Consuming caffeine daily quickly causes the human body to build up a tolerance to the drug. The same dose of caffeine then causes a person to achieve a sense of normal rather than the euphoric feelings it once did.
Quitting resets your body’s caffeine tolerance, allowing it to work really well on the occasions you really need it to.
15. Possible Drug Interactions
Caffeine can interact with other medications causing them to not work as they should.
Giving up caffeine eliminates this risk.
16. No More Jitters
One of the leading side-effects of caffeine or coffee consumption is jitters or shaky hands. This can range from annoying to even debilitating for some people.
Quitting can give you your steady hands back.
17. Less Risk of Cardiac Events
Caffeine stimulates the heart muscle causing it to beat with more forceful contractions.
While this isn’t problematic for most people, those with underlying heart conditions can be at risk. People can be unaware that they even have a heart disorder until they begin to consume caffeine and the damage is done.
18. Increased Productivity
What would you do with an extra hour every day? Those addicted to caffeine can easily waste an hour standing in line at the coffee shop, making trips to the break room talking to coworkers along the way, and stopping at convenience stores. Also, the “productivity effect” caffeine provides quickly diminishes if you’re addicted.
The time saved could be used for an extra hour of sleep instead!
19. Reduced Type 2 Diabetes Risk
While black coffee actually has been shown to reduce diabetes risk, drinking sugary coffee and caffeinated beverages actually increase your risk of diabetes.
“People who consume sugary drinks regularly—1 to 2 cans a day or more—have a 26% greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes” – Harvard School of Public Health6
20. Better Health
Many research studies point to the health benefits of coffee and tea because of their antioxidant properties. However, this isn’t true for all caffeinated beverages.
Soda, energy drinks, and processed coffee and tea products most likely have a negative impact on your long-term health.
People who drink mainly water report more natural energy, better overall feelings of wellness, better sleep, and healthier skin.
Even though coffee is high in antioxidants, people would be better off eating more blueberries or other highly nutritious foods and focus on an overall healthier diet.
Should You Quit?
If you are a slave to your coffee mug or energy drink, then you already know the answer. The real question becomes, how am I going to quit without failing my day-to-day responsibilities?!
If you want to reduce your caffeine intake (or quit entirely), here’s how:
1.Download our book Awake(it’s free).
2. Do the Overcoming Caffeine Withdrawal course at Udemy.
3. Use the Wean Caffeine supplement (something we helped get to market). It helps you avoid the painful withdrawal symptoms that often come when quitting caffeine abruptly.
No matter what your method or reason for quitting, being free from caffeine has its advantages.
Written by Ted Kallmyer, last updated on November 18, 2019
Caffeine can be a great pick-me-up, but it can also be really scary. Like most things, it’s great in moderation, but when you get to the point of needing that morning cup like the air your breathe, it’s time to admit you have a problem. Here’s how to kick your caffeine addiction without feeling like crap in the process.
Stop for a moment and think about how much caffeine you consume. Your morning cup of coffee is obvious, but also consider how many caffeinated sodas you drink. Then think about how many cups of tea you have, caffeinated snacks you eat, and whether your preferred painkiller has caffeine in it. It can add up pretty quickly, and if you’re not careful, caffeine can become a crutch instead of a tool.
A few years ago, I could stop by a convenience store for a 24 oz. cup of coffee at 2am, drink it, go to bed at 4am, sleep soundly, and wake up at 7am to go to work, no problems. That’s when I realized that if I actually wanted to use caffeine as a tool to stay alert, or try the caffeine power nap, I couldn’t do it—my tolerance was entirely too high. I decided to do something about it: I wanted my morning cup or afternoon tea to actually help me focus instead of being a lifeline to stay awake. I cut my intake back bit by bit, and in the process learned to really love coffee and tea—blends, brews, types, and styles all started to appeal to me, and in turn I’m more mindful when I pour a cup.
You can do the same, and in this post we’ll share some techniques to tame your caffeine addiction and make it work for you, instead of the other way around.
Tame It or Quit It?
Whether you choose to give up caffeine entirely or just want to use it intelligently is up to you. Some of us at Lifehacker HQ have given it up, but some of us love our morning cup and indulge in an afternoon tea. What we all agree on though is that caffeine, like anything else in your diet, should be taken in moderation, understanding exactly what it does to you and why. Photo by Ellie Goodman.
There’s been a lot of research into the effects of caffeine on health, and you’ll find opinions on all sides as to whether you should drink more, less, or none at all. We’re not going to tackle that debate here, but we will say this: if you’re not using caffeine strategically and instead you’re letting it use you, it’s time to take back the reins. When consumed intelligently, caffeine can bring its health benefits to bear while simultaneously offering you a much needed boost. In short, your caffeine habits should be more akin to using a scalpel, not a howitzer.
Stick to the Caffeinated Beverages You Love and Cut Back Gradually
On a recent episode of the Lifehacker Podcast, a caller noted that he consumed upwards of 18 cups of coffee a day. We offered some suggestions on the show, and you’ve offered some tips in the past, but we also put the question to nutritionists Andy Belatti and Allannah Dibona. Here are some suggestions they came up with:
- Count your caffeine. The first thing you need to do is keep track of how much caffeine you take in. Alannah suggests, “GO SLOW. Caffeine is mightily addictive, and any sort of drastic change can bring about equally dramatic symptoms. I’d begin by taking accurate note of your intake over the first few days.” If you’re willing to do the math, she points out, bringing your caffeine intake to a reasonable level will be much easier. You’ll be able to tell where you’re struggling and make adjustments, or hold at a given point without giving up and buying a case of soda. Photo by shira gal.
- Cut back slowly. It may be the most obvious suggestion, but trying to go cold turkey when you’re taking in a lot of caffeine over the course of a day is a recipe for disaster. At best, you’ll feel miserable and power through it, at worst that miserable feeling will make you just give up. “When you’re talking about 10 or 12 cups of coffee a day, you’re looking at something that will take a little over a month to scale back on. I’d recommend having 2 fewer cups of coffee each successive week (10 cups a day one week, then 8 cups a day the next, 6 cups a day the following, etc.) That should help mitigate the typical withdrawal symptoms—mainly headaches, anxiety, and irritability,” Andy notes. Start slow and give yourself time to kick the habit—or at least come down to a manageable level.
Change up “the usual” and choose a different coffee drink. If your usual drink at the coffee bar is a standard cup of drip or a multi-shot espresso, consider changing it up to something with the same volume but less caffeine. “Little known fact: one shot of espresso has less caffeine than a cup of coffee. When I was trying to cut back, I’d drink an americano (espresso and hot water) instead of a regular drip cup,” Alannah explained. “I found the flavor intense, muddy and enjoyable, but my propensity toward caffeine shakes decreased dramatically.” Photo by journeys.
- Kick other caffeinated beverages. If you love your morning cup of coffee too much to give it up, but you want to cut back the caffeine you consume, look elsewhere in your diet. Do you drink sugary, caffeinated sodas in the afternoon or evening? It may be easier to switch to some other tasty, healthy alternative to soda instead. Picking something else to sip when you need refreshment can benefit your health and help you kick caffeine. If you’re a fan of super-caffeinated snacks, cut back on those too—a novelty Black Black now and again is fun, but if you hit the post-lunch drag and pop one in your mouth just to keep going, it’s time to give it up.
Hack Your Caffeine Fix with Some Clever Diet Tricks
Gradually stepping down is one thing, but if your problem is psychological, there are plenty of ways to trick your brain and body into thinking you’re getting the fix you need. Photo by Tim Massey.
- Try Half-Caf. It may sound awful to coffee fans (and depending on how you prep it, it can be,) but switching from fully caffeinated brews to half-caffeinated ones lets you drink the same amount of fluid while cutting the amount of caffeine you ingest in half. Combine this with stepping down the volume of coffee or tea you drink, and you’re making serious progress.
- Fall in love with the Cafe Diablo. This is a personal favorite of mine, and a trick I’ve used to keep my caffeine intake in check. When you really need that afternoon cup of coffee, go for it, but instead of all coffee, make a half-cup of hot cocoa and a half-cup of coffee. The end-result is less caffeinated than a full cup, and really delicious. Watch how much sugar and milk you add, and you can even go 3/4 cocoa and 1/4 coffee instead. Just don’t get hooked!
Switch to a low or no-caffeine alternative. Andy suggests Teeccino, a popular herbal tea that roasts up and is served like coffee, but is caffeine-free. You might also try roasted barley tea, or mugicha in Japanese (available at your local asian market, or online.) Roasted barley tea is often sold with other ingredients to boost its flavor (if you can get chicory, try it!) and don’t have the tooth enamel-eating issues that other hot drinks often have. Both options ideal for people who can’t have caffeine for medical reasons, but even switching one or two cups of coffee or tea with it can help cut your caffeine intake without forcing you to give up the psychological comfort of a hot cuppa. Photo by Richard Masoner.
- Drink water. The benefits of hydration are well documented. We’ve busted the myth that caffeinated beverages don’t hydrate you before, but this is about cutting caffeine. A little water—even flavored waters with citrus, fruit, or other flavorful mixers—can replace the volume you normally take in with soda. Our own Adam Dachis mentioned that his sister—who sings—has been known to just enjoy a hot cup of water instead of coffee or tea. Hot water is a popular performer’s trick to keep your voice in prime condition, and is sometimes taken with a little lemon or honey to add flavor. If a hot cup is all you want, give it a try.
Try Tea Instead
Tea is another diet trick to help you cut down on caffeine, but it deserves a little more attention. My two caffeinated beverages of choice are coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon. Even some of us at Lifehacker HQ who very closely watch our caffeine intakes are willing to enjoy a cup of tea from time to time, and you can too. The key is to learn a little about tea, and which teas have the most caffeine in them and which have the least.
We’ve laid out coffee and tea side by side before, but one thing is clear: if you’re drinking coffee all day, or tossing back sodas, any tea will represent a cut in your caffeine intake, and can bring in some of caffeine’s alertness and focus benefits without the crash you get from a sugary, caffeinated soda or a quad-shot espresso. Our coffee lover’s guide to tea is well worth a read if you want to get into tea, but here are some critical points:
- Black teas have the highest caffeine content, usually upwards of 60-70 milligrams (mg) per cup. Much of this depends on the blend and the steep time though—shorter steeping can get you a cup of black tea with 20mg per 12oz cup, but deeply roasted, long-steeped black tea can push 100mg per cup. That’s still a bargain, compared to a cup of drip coffee, which can come in well over 100mg.
Green teas fall in the middle, averaging around 30-40mg per cup, again depending on blend and brew. Green teas usually don’t push past 50mg, but lightly steeped pots can come in close to 10mg. Photo by Joe Hall.
- White teas usually have the least amount of caffeine, partially because the plant is harvested at a young age and the leaves are very lightly roasted. White teas carry between 5-30mg per 12oz cup.
- Herbal teas vary depending on the herbs that go into them. You’ll have to do your homework on this one—some herbal teas (which aren’t technically tea because they have no actual tea leaves in them) like Rooibos (aka Red Bush) has no caffeine, but Yerba Mate on the other hand has more caffeine than coffee.
Again, these numbers aren’t perfect, and you can read more about the nuances that come with the type, blend, and roasting of different teas at Adagio Tea here and The Frgrant Leaf here. Granted, they both sell tea so they have a vested interest, but the data is legit.
Also, keep in mind though that an average 12oz coke only has about 20-25mg of caffeine, so a one for one switch from soda to tea isn’t a good idea. If you’re considering tea as a substitute for coffee, you’ll be decreasing your caffeine intake with the same volume intake. If you’re considering tea as a substitute for soda, you’ll still need to cut back. In either case, tea is a tool to help you cut back, not an overall replacement.
Fight Caffeine Withdrawl with Exercise
Andy noted one more creative suggestion: exercise. ” One of the best ways to conquer caffeine withdrawal symptoms is to get some sort of exercise for 20 – 25 minutes. Exercise unleashes a flood of endorphins, which often helps to curb headaches.” While you probably can’t just go for a run or hit the treadmill every time you crave a soda or a cup of coffee, it’s true that exercise—especially regular exercise—has mental and emotional benefits as well as immediate benefits like Andy noted. Photo by Mike Baird.
Additionally, if you’re looking to tame instead of eliminate your caffeine intake, a little caffeine can go a long way when it comes to exercise. Cutting back and getting your habit under control can offer you a valuable tool to make your workouts more effective. Just make sure to stay hydrated.
You don’t have to give up caffeine entirely to get your intake under control. You may be ingesting way more caffeine on a daily basis than you think you do. Maybe you want to have more control over how caffeinated beverages make you feel. Whatever the reason is, you can get back in the driver’s seat and learn to love your coffee and tea instead of feel like you’re in an abusive relationship with it, all without feeling like death for weeks or months to get there.
Andy Bellatti, MS, RD is a Las Vegas-based Nutritionist and the author of the nutrition blog Small Bites. You can follow him on Twitter at @andybellatti.
Alannah Dibona, MA, MS, is a Boston-based Nutritionist and wellness counselor, and the woman behind mindbodysportconsulting.com.
Both graciously volunteered their expertise for this story, and we thank them.
Title image remixed using Markus Genn () and Szymon Apanowicz ().
Below you will find Canadian provincial and United States addiction helplines for information on available treatment services.
- For access to a listing of programs offered to First Nations and Inuit, visit: Addictions Treatment for First Nations and Inuit.
Alberta (Addiction Helpline, Alberta Health Services)
British Columbia (Alcohol and Drug Information and Referral Service)
Newfoundland and Labrador (Addictions Services, Department of Health and Community Services)
Northwest Territories (Department of Health and Social Services)
Nova Scotia (Addiction Services Offices, Nova Scotia Health Authority)
1-866-340-6700 (Halifax Regional Municipality)
902-424-8866 (Halifax Regional Municipality)
Nunavut (Kamatsiaqtut Help Line)
Ontario (Drug and Alcohol Helpline, ConnexOntario)
Prince Edward Island (Addiction Services, Health PEI)
Quebec (Drugs: help and referral)
Saskatchewan (HealthLine, Ministry of Health)
811 or 1-877-800-0002
Drug Rehab – Addiction Center
No matter where you live in the U.S., there is a drug rehab center that can help you overcome your addiction. We can help you find a treatment center based on your location, budget and specific needs and get you started immediately.
The Recovery Village
Our advanced approach to addiction treatment and drug treatment empowers individuals on the path to recovery. The Recovery Village offers comprehensive treatment for dual diagnosis based drug and alcohol rehab, eating disorder and mental health treatments tailored to the patient’s specific needs.
Alcohol Rehab Guide
It’s going to be okay. We’re here to help guide you or your loved one through alcohol rehab and recovery. Get Started Now. Advanced Treatment. Confidentiality. Free Hotline. Human Support. Call to Find an Alcohol Rehab Facility Today.
Alternative to Meds Center
Holistic Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Center. A world-class licensed residential holistic behavioral mental health and addiction treatment center, providing our residents with outstanding compassionate care. We have many years of experience helping thousands of people overcome withdrawal from antidepressants, antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, alcohol, opiates, and prescription drug medications.
Addiction takes so much away from you: your goals, your dreams, your family, your life, and even the person who you truly are. Luckily, you can take it all back. Contact a dedicated treatment expert today to find a rehab center that will get you back to the right spot.
Monarch Shores is a licensed and certified luxury rehab center in California, located right off the Pacific Coastal Highway in Orange County. Specializing in providing individualized treatment programs for every unique patient who comes through our doors. The physician-led multidisciplinary treatment team provides an integrated, holistic approach to treatment that creates long-term effective sobriety. These addiction treatment services include personalized therapy that incorporates cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), 12-step addiction treatment, non 12-step treatment, dual diagnosis, SMART Recovery, and holistic modalities such as acupuncture, yoga, meditation, fitness training, recreational outings and much more.
Drug Rehab Connections
The Drug Rehab Connections community is made up of those who want to help and give back. We are here to share our stories of recovery and hope as we begin the steps together towards rehab and recovery.
Sunshine Behavioural Health
At Sunshine Behavioral Health our goal is to help as many people as possible in their struggles with substance abuse. We aim to show people that not only is sobriety possible, but repairing the damages of addiction can also be obtained.