My Experience Quitting Caffeine: How It Sucks But Why It’s Worth It

I have a love-hate relationship with caffeine. I love drinking big ass Starbucks coffees, but I’ve always felt the huge toll that it takes as well, often in the form of insane insomnia! I actually got my DNA tested which revealed that I have the gene to metabolize caffeine slowly – 4-6 hour half-life my ass!

But the delightful smell of coffee in the morning….

Despite the temporary awesomeness of consuming the above, I’ve noticed too many costs over the years of excessive consumption:

  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling a huge downswing in mental acuity as it wears off
  • Not to mention the psychological addiction

So enough is enough. Time to quit. Below are the notes I took on my exact experiences, just to give an idea of what is in store for you addicts out there should you ever quit. I did extensive research beforehand so I could know what to expect, but unfortunately individual experiences seemed to vary wildly.

For comparative purposes: I am 6′ 2″, 180 lbs at the time of this experiment, and have been consuming an estimated average of 200-400 mg of caffeine almost every day for the past 3 years. I am also genetically sensitive to caffeine (hence the side effects even at that relatively “low” dose compared to some).

Preparation: 1 day reduction down to approximately 100-150mg.

Day 1
I was stupid and consumed soy protein before sleep (confounding variable) which distinctly impacted my mood in negative way. I suspect possibly as a hormonal effect of the soy. But either way pre-breakfast was fine. The hard part is after breakfast when I needed to sit down to work I still felt crappy rather than awake. That crappy morning feeling basically never went away. Slight headache, but mostly feeling spacy and exhausted and even slightly depressed. I went to work out, and while it wasn’t the best workout I got through it and felt better afterwards. In order to subvert temptations, I am rewarding myself for staying off caffeine by consuming things I like but that I don’t normally allow myself to eat much of (dried fruit, chocolate, etc). Although I suppose the caffeine content of chocolate makes it somewhat of a cheat.

I actually got a decent amount of stuff done, just in very short bursts with lots of breaks. My attention span was totally shot, but pomodoros worked decently. By the time night rolled around I basically felt normal. My takeaway is that the hard part is lacking the caffeinated high during working that I will really have to overcome.

Sleep was restless with crazy constant dreaming.

Day 2
Woke up feeling similar to yesterday, maybe 10% better. Same thing – after breakfast my body expects to be caffeinated and I have trouble starting the day without that feeling, especially since everything I do with my time is self-motivated. Thought: maybe I should set up more extensive external sources of motivation for the time being. One thing I’ve already done is told the staff here to refuse me coffee and tea. Self control contracts are the best!

I also think I am noticing a trend already – I feel like shit right when my body expects caffeine, but evantually it gets over it and I feel ok. Already this is happening sooner, so I imagine over the next several days the “shit” period that I have to push through in the morning will get shorter and shorter then disappear completely – woot!

Nope I lied continued to feel exhausted most of the day.

Day 3
Actually didn’t sleep that well. But woke up slightly easier, still dying for some caffeine. The funny thing is it’s not withdrawal symptoms but impatience with my sluggish brain that makes me want caffeine so bad. Or maybe that’s my way of rationalizing cravings.

I cheated – 1 cup of black tea. Self control fail. Went hiking up a mountain. My body does more or less fine despite the perception of fatigue. It’s just the tail ends of workouts that are suffering slightly but no biggie.

Day 4
Woke up at 415am after going to sleep at 10pm. Coincidence? I tried to go back to sleep but now I’m just watching the beach sunrise at 5 (finally for the first time haha). Apparently there have been some dolphins hanging out here in the early mornings. Confounding variable: two glasses of wine last night (Glutamine rebound possibly causing the abrupt awakening).

Either way I so hope this is from the caffeine change. Feels awesome being awake this early. Got all the time in the world and some time to myself with nature.

IMG_3707

Makes me wonder about my natural sleep requirements in the absence of caffeine. I’ve always assumed I was one of the people who genuinely needs 8.5 hours. Super excited to see if it’s truly less [Edit: it is only slightly less, this was an anomally]. That alone would make staying off caffeine totally worth it! And it would be no wonder – people who sleep that much less often drink little caffeine or stop quite early.

Also this is only one datapoint, but I am noticing that despite 6 hours of sleep I feel a much different kind of tired. Normally when I don’t sleep much I feel very stressed with high levels of inflammation. Right now I just feel relaxed and kinda sleepy. It was always the inflammation and feeling of stress that made me hate lack of sleep most. This might also be a (highly awesome) result of nixing the caffeine. Will have to observe. [Edit: this has proved true over time]

Getting so much done today! Laid down for an hour – didn’t sleep but just rested a bit. Besides that I’ve been powering through nonstop! I’m not moving quite as fast as when I’m caffeinated, but super consistently so more is getting done overall.

My motivation, energy and mood are all back (and quite high).

I worked out and took an hour break after, but aside from that and laying down an hour I was working away from 6am to about 730pm after 6 hours of sleep, and on only a cup of tea. I still feel like I could keep going another 2 hours easy. Just hoping this is not a fluke and I can do this most days! It will be incredibly ironic if this keeps up, because I’ll have been only 5 days from feeling this awesome for the past 3 years, just somehow never ended up over the hump.

Day 5
Had trouble sleeping last night (I blame tea at noon) so I woke up a little groggy, but still able to jump out of bed and get going which was rare before. This morning I am having green tea, sort of offsetting last night. Makes it clear how the caffeine cycle ends up working! From now on I will occasionally have 1 cup green tea only in the morning if I am super groggy.

Yeah… I feel way worse today. It’s either the black tea yesterday or delayed effect of less sleep 2 nights ago.

Day 6
No caffeine whatsoever. Kinda sleepy today because I didn’t sleep well again, but still pretty productive – I really see what people are saying about energy levels being more consistent throughout the day. I no longer feel totally stupid on the downswings in the evening, nor manic and tense on upswings.

Normally I would have drank extra caffeine to compensate for lack of sleep, but not doing so made falling asleep this night much easier.

Day 7
Slept great, woke up feeling awesome. This is basically the end of the experiment, but I already know I will continue with it indefinitely.

Day 8 and beyond
This was never meant to be a strict “never touch caffeine again” situation. While eliminating caffeine was a great decision, I am still a bit sluggish in the mornings. So now my tolerance is reset, I still drink green tea some mornings, as the content is too low for most negative side effects or tolerance. I’ve tried coffee again (1 cup in the morning a couple times to see if it might be occasionally useful) and while the effect is distinct, the downsides are just plain not worth it unless the situation is dire – there is noticeable tension, rebound effects when it wears off, and adverse gastrointestinal reactions, and even with 1 cup of coffee I still tend to sleep like shit that night. Even then modafinil (Note: blog post on this coming soon..) is probably a better option anyways! I do miss a super nice late though! The takeaway for me is that coffee is an indulgence that should be used only in life or death circumstances (like having to drive all night) and tea is ok in small doses. Caffeine is alluring but slow and steady wins the race!

Summary of positive effects experienced by the end of this process:
Better sleep (even though I still have screwy sleep, it’s less screwy)
Wake up much easier in the emornings
Consistent energy levels
Better awareness of true biorhythms
Better digestive functioning
Happier and less anxiety
See potential for a possible reduction in total need for sleep
Overall similar productivity, but over a longer consistent timeline instead of bursts

The only real downside: Not having a synthetic way of quickly jacking up motivation and energy. Sometimes this is really useful, but just something to work around.

Transition period: solid 3 days, although some other people say it takes up to a week

Keep and eye out for the documentation of my next 2 experiments: 1) Taking Modafinil (the Limitless pill) and 2) Intermittent Fasting.

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