Caffeine is the world’s most-used psychoactive drug. An estimated 80-90% of adults worldwide use caffeine every day.
I was one of them up until 93 days ago. I stopped using caffeine for 90 days… and it ruined my life (at least at first).
You’re probably wondering:
“Why did you do this to yourself?”
Let’s rewind back to late 2018.
I was a senior at engineering school. I was finally hitting the wall of burnout. I was double scooping C4 preworkout into my water bottle to get me going for 8am classes.
Fast forward a year.
I was working in my new engineering career. I had just started creating videos for YouTube. I was essentially working two full time jobs.
I was using and abusing caffeine every day. It didn’t really have any effect on me. I was pretty much only using it out of habit.
I wasn’t using C4 anymore, but I was hitting the office coffee machine, taking Bang energy drinks to work, and drinking a lot of Diet Coke (which also contains caffeine).
In November 2019 I suddenly started having chest pains, chest tightness, high heart rate, hot and cold flashes, and severe anxiety.
My brain immediately started thinking I was on the verge of having a heart attack. My mom had been a nurse in a cardiac emergency room for years. I had heard stories about heart attack patients (and read about celebrities dying of cardiac events).
I was terrified.
One morning I was lying on the floor at 3am. I was in the middle of a panic attack. My heart rate was over 120bpm. I was alternating between hot and cold. I had my keys, wallet, and glasses in a neat pile beside me in case I decided to drive myself to the ER.
I thought I was going to die alone. My mom and my friends were asleep. I didn’t want to call anyone and wake them up. I didn’t want to call 911 because I didn’t want to go through all that for a false alarm.
The panic attack went away after a few hours. But I had several more over the next few weeks.
I quit drinking. I ate better. I exercised more. I went to the doctor, got my bloodwork done, and had an EKG done… But the doctor found nothing wrong with me.
One day in late 2019 I decided to take a break from caffeine. My panic attacks, chest discomfort, and anxiety went away within a few days.
I realized caffeine was the cause of those symptoms.
I went about 30 days on that break. Then I reintroduced caffeine into my daily routine. But I quickly went back to consistently having more than I should.
The panic attacks came and went over the next few years. A few months ago, back in September 2022, they came back with a vengeance. I was having 2-3 panic attacks that lasted 4-6 hours every week.
I had also been diagnosed with high blood pressure, my stress levels were higher than they had ever been in my life, and I was struggling to fall asleep.
So, in November 2022, I decided to take another break from caffeine.
It wasn’t entirely intentional at first. I unintentionally missed my morning coffee 2 days in a row.
I decided to keep it going because I knew it would help me with the above symptoms. But because I quit cold turkey (as opposed to tapering down)…
At least for the first week. I had terrible headaches. I was hungry all day long. I felt an immense pressure on my eye sockets – it was like an elephant was sitting on my face (but not in a good way).
I could barely do any work. I had zero interest in doing anything. I just wanted to lie in bed and watch YouTube videos with my cat.
I was a sleepy shell of myself. I lost a week of productivity – but that’s mainly because I quit cold turkey instead of tapering down (we’ll come back to how to do that).
Things got back to normal after the first week. My energy, mood, hunger, sleep, and overall productivity recovered and then surpassed where they were before I quit caffeine.
But the best result?
I haven’t had a panic attack in over 3 months. Also, I have lower blood pressure, I have less stress, and I get better sleep.
But that’s just my own anecdotal experience. Here are 5 evidence-backed benefits of taking a break from caffeine (or at least using less caffeine):
1) Less anxiety
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. It triggers your fight-or-flight stress response.
This raises your:
• Heart rate
• Blood pressure
This is great when you’re running from a threat. Not so great when you’re trying to work, relax, or just live your life.
This is why caffeine can cause:
And, as I learned in 2019, panic attacks.
2) Better sleep
Caffeine binds to adenosine receptors.
Adenosine is a molecule that tells the body it’s time to sleep. It builds up throughout the day. This creates what’s called “sleep pressure” – the feeling of being sleepy. But adenosine can’t bind to the receptors while caffeine is blocking them.
This is why caffeine can help you power through work late into the evening. But caffeine can also hurt your ability to fall asleep in the evening. This makes you use more caffeine in the morning.
This is a negative cycle. Caffeine takes 6-10 hours to be eliminated from your body. Stopping caffeine use 10 hours before bed can help you sleep better.
3) Fewer energy crashes
Caffeine users tend to have a midday energy crash.
Why? Because of caffeine’s effect on adenosine receptors.
Caffeine, especially taken later in the day, leads to a buildup of adenosine waiting to bind to receptors.
As the caffeine is processed, the built up adenosine binds to the receptors, causing a sudden spike in sleepiness.
This is why people crash, use more caffeine to recover, and then crash even harder.
Taking a break from caffeine avoids these crashes.
4) Improved blood pressure
Caffeine causes an acute (short-term) spike in blood pressure.
Studies have found this to be around 2-8 mmHg systolic and diastolic for 30-180 minutes.
This may not seem like much, but for people with high blood pressure, every increase or decrease may be meaningful.
Long-term caffeine use doesn’t seem to cause a sustained increase in blood pressure.
But in my opinion, if you’re someone who has high blood pressure, it’s worth taking a break while lowering your blood pressure down by other means.
5) Reduced caffeine tolerance
Regular caffeine use creates a tolerance.
Many people use caffeine just to feel normal. It doesn’t give them much of a positive effect anymore.
Your caffeine tolerance can reset to baseline within 7-14 days without caffeine. Your adenosine receptors will adjust back to baseline.
Cycling caffeine helps you get more out of it when you do use it.
But don’t immediately return to the same amount of caffeine you were having or else you may experience:
• Heart palpitations
If you decide to take a break, watch out for sneaky sources of caffeine, like:
• Many teas
• Dark chocolate
• Many sodas (like Coke and Diet Coke)
Even decaf coffee has trace amounts of caffeine in it – but I doubt that would affect you unless you are sensitive to caffeine.
I’m not saying you should completely cut out caffeine. But if you’ve been struggling with any of the problems I’ve mentioned, or if you don’t feel like you’re getting any benefit from caffeine, I recommend taking a break or at least cutting back for a few weeks.
Taper your intake down over the course of a week.
Since I like to do things like this based on specific numbers, when I taper down, I get this specific brand of bottled cold brew from the store that has its caffeine content listed on the back.
Say 12oz of the cold brew has 140mg caffeine.
On day 1, I’d have 12oz (140mg). Day 2, I’d have 10oz (117mg). Day 3, I’d have 8oz (94mg). This continues til I’m at my target caffeine intake.
Tapering down this way will minimize the negative side effects of caffeine withdrawal. You’ll avoid the fatigue, mood issues, and productivity loss.
So what does the future hold? Will I use caffeine again? Or will I go caffeine-free for the rest of my life?
I’ve actually already had caffeine. I celebrated my full 90 day break 3 days ago with a double espresso on ice with heavy cream (my favorite).
The only side effect I noticed was a slightly increased heart rate. No anxiety, or panic attack.
I’m creating a different relationship with caffeine going forward. I’m not going to go back to using caffeine every day. I haven’t had it in the past 3 days.
I’m (mainly) only going to use it when I go to a coffee shop with the intent to work on something. That way I won’t get back in the daily habit of using it just so I don’t feel bad (and be experiencing panic attacks).
I’ll use it when I need a boost instead of using it as a habit. I recommend you aim for the same.
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