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How to Quit Caffeine but Keep the Energy


September 11, 2023

Caffeine is the most widely used drug in the world. Most of us don’t think of caffeine as a drug because it’s so common, but that’s what it is. It’s a psychoactive substance that affects both the body and the brain. Overreliance on it can lead to caffeine use disorder and also affect sleep, anxiety levels, and more. If you’re experiencing these downsides, you might be wondering how to quit caffeine for good.

Quitting caffeine can be challenging, but you can do it! Read on for tips on how to quit caffeine without withdrawal symptoms and enjoy better sleep, less anxiety, and all the other benefits of a caffeine-free lifestyle.

Why Quit Caffeine?

Quitting can help you avoid or reduce negative effects linked to caffeine consumption, including:

Heads up!: Research on caffeine’s effect on the body is ongoing, and adverse effects may be dose-dependent, population-specific, or specific to coffee, soda, or other forms of caffeine.

Reasons to Quit Caffeine

  • Cutting out caffeine, or even just cutting down, may help you get better sleep, improve your mood, and protect the health of your heart and your bones.
  • If you’re pregnant, multiple health organizations including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend limiting your caffeine intake to less than 200 mg per day during pregnancy.
  • If you’re a coffee shop regular, cutting down on high-priced coffees can save you a lot of money!

Once you’ve decided that it’s time, the real question is how to quit caffeine the easy way. Let’s dive in.  

How Much Caffeine Is in a Cup of Coffee?

You might wonder how much caffeine you’re consuming when you drink your coffee. The USDA recommends no more than 400 mg of coffee per day (or, as we mentioned, 200 mg during pregnancy.) But unlike many canned and bottled beverages, your daily cuppa joe doesn’t come labeled with how many milligrams of caffeine it contains. Here’s a handy guide:

  • 8 oz. of drip coffee – 95 mg on average
  • Espresso – 63 mg per shot (Note: Most 16 oz espresso beverages contain two shots)
  • Instant coffee – 30–90 mg per cup

You might be surprised to learn that decaf coffee isn’t necessarily caffeine-free. It can have roughly 2 mg of caffeine per serving.

How to Quit Caffeine Successfully

Cold turkey or gradual reduction?

If you want to know how to quit caffeine without withdrawal symptoms, the answer is gradual reduction. Gradually reducing your caffeine consumption lessens unpleasant withdrawal symptoms (discussed below), so plan to slowly cut down on caffeine rather than stop all at once.

Setting Your Caffeine-Free Goals

Start with your goals. Ask yourself:

  • Do you want to cut out caffeine entirely, or reduce your intake to a certain level?
  • Do you want to reduce all caffeine intake, or just cut down on the caffeinated products you consume most often, whether it’s coffee, tea, energy drinks, or caffeine pills?
  • When do you want to reach your goal?

Now find your “why.” Ask yourself:

  • Why do you want to eliminate or reduce caffeine? (Example: you want better quality sleep, you’re pregnant, your doctor recommended it, etc.)
  • Why now?

Knowing your “why” can help you stick to your goals. Write your compelling “why” on a piece of paper and stick it somewhere you can see it every day, like the bathroom mirror or refrigerator door, to keep yourself motivated to achieve your goals.

Create a Gradual Reduction Plan

Next, come up with a plan to reduce your caffeine intake over time. The plan that’s right for you takes your goals, habits, and current caffeine intake into account.

Assess your current caffeine intake

Cutting out caffeine too fast can lead to worse withdrawal symptoms (discussed below), so start by getting an idea of how much caffeine you currently consume on a daily basis. Track your caffeine intake from all sources (coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, dark chocolate, caffeine pills, painkillers with caffeine like Excedrin, and so on) for a few days until you know your average daily intake. Find the average amounts of caffeine in the most common caffeine-containing foods here.  

Reduce caffeine from your diet

Cut out caffeinated drinks entirely or reduce the caffeine in each drink. Some ideas to try:

  • Cut out one caffeinated drink (one coffee, tea, soda, or energy drink) a day for one week, then reduce by another caffeinated drink the following week.
  • Switch to smaller serving sizes of your favorite drink, e.g., switch from 12 oz cans of soda to 8 oz, from a 2-liter (67.6 ounces) to two 20-ounce bottles, or from a large coffee or tea to a small.
  • Change to a coffee brewing method that yields less caffeine per cup; choose instant coffee or one espresso over brewed coffee and cold brew coffee (about 200 mg per 16 oz cup).
  • At coffee shops, ask for fewer shots of espresso, request a half-caf, or choose an Americano rather than brewed coffee.
  • At home, make your coffee or tea with half regular, half non-caffeinated/decaf.
  • Replace your regular drink with a caffeine-free alternative (see the next section).
  • Give yourself a cut-off time every day (e.g., 2 p.m.) after which you don’t consume any caffeine in any form.

Note: Coffee, tea, and energy drinks aren’t the only sources of caffeine. Limit your intake of dark chocolate, too. Avoid painkillers that contain caffeine, like Excedrin. 

Track your progress

Write down how much caffeine you consume every day and record any unpleasant symptoms you experience. Use this information to adjust your caffeine reduction plan over time so you can continue to cut out caffeine without experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

How Long Does It Take to Quit Caffeine?

Different people process caffeine differently and have different caffeine habits, so results will vary. But in general, the higher your level of caffeine consumption, the longer you should give yourself to cut it out.

Case studies of two individuals consuming approximately 500 mg of caffeine a day successfully reduced their intake over the course of 10 weeks and 6 weeks (respectively). If you consume less caffeine, you should be able to taper down more quickly.

Finding Caffeine Alternatives

Coffee and tea drinkers have many options when it comes to finding caffeine-free alternatives to replace that daily cup (or three or four!). Decaf coffee, naturally caffeine-free herbal teas, coffee alternatives, and water infused with fruits and herbs make healthy, tasty alternatives.

Soda drinkers can choose caffeine-free sodas or flavored sparkling water as a good replacement. If you’re addicted to energy drinks, try decaf versions of your favorite or other nutrient-packed beverages and powders for natural energy.

Explore Caffeine Alternatives

Overcoming Caffeine Withdrawal

Caffeine withdrawal can cause headaches, fatigue, problems concentrating, low mood, and constipation. Reducing caffeine intake quickly leads to worse symptoms, while gradual reduction makes withdrawal easier.

If you’re experiencing unpleasant side effects of caffeine withdrawal, re-tool your caffeine reduction plan to reduce your caffeine intake more slowly. You can also treat some of the symptoms directly:

  • Headaches: Take an over-the-counter painkiller; drink plenty of water. (Avoid painkillers like Excedrin that include caffeine.)
  • Fatigue: Sleep more; drink plenty of water; get enough vitamins and minerals
  • Constipation: Increase fiber intake; drink plenty of water; try an over-the-counter medicine for constipation

Sometimes the only way to get rid of the worst of the symptoms (like a painkiller-resistant headache) is to have some caffeine. Try a small amount – like half a cup of instant coffee – to see if that’s enough to reduce your symptoms to a level you can handle.

Don’t get down on yourself if you go off your plan temporarily. Simply readjust and get back on it tomorrow!

How Long Does Caffeine Detox Take?

The half-life of caffeine in healthy people is approximately five hours, so every five hours (on average) the amount of caffeine in the body reduces by half. This means it can take anywhere from several hours to several days to completely eliminate caffeine from the body after the last dose of caffeine is ingested. For this reason, detox time varies greatly from person to person and depends on how much caffeine is in the body.

Wondering how long it will take to feel normal after quitting caffeine? It depends. Reducing your caffeine intake slowly enough can prevent withdrawal symptoms altogether so you feel like your usual self throughout the process.

Stick to It

Quitting caffeine can be challenging, especially if you’ve been consuming caffeine for a long time and it’s part of your daily routine. Take it slowly, keep your “why” in mind, and don’t be hard on yourself if you experience setbacks along the way. Yes, it’s hard, but you can do it!

Erin Danly is a freelance writer whose work focuses on marketing content and verbal branding for B2B and B2C clients. Before turning to writing, she was a pastry chef and a psychology lab manager at Columbia University. Erin lives with her family in Mt. Pleasant, SC.