What It’s Like to Quit Caffeine

Everything I’ve experienced after nine months caffeine-free.

Photo by Ohmky on Unsplash

Why I Quit Caffeine

Near the end of last year, I started having a lot of trouble falling asleep at night. I’ve experienced insomnia before, and even sleeping pills weren’t much help. So, this time I decided to try something I had never done before: giving up caffeine.

I was drinking a few sodas and a few coffees each day. It may have been a bit more than average, but it certainly wasn’t an extraordinary amount. Even so, it seemed like more than enough to be keeping me awake. I figured that I didn’t have much to lose by giving a shot at going caffeine-free.

I started by just cutting back on my intake, and I noticed results immediately. My insomnia didn’t disappear, but I did start falling asleep a little bit more easily.

I was further inspired to give up caffeine when I learned that caffeine can often cause anxiety. I’ve dealt with anxiety for most of my life, and I’ve even gone to therapy for it. Despite that, I had never once heard about the connection between caffeine and anxiety. I was surprised that none of the therapists I went to ever even asked whether I drank much coffee.

Between my sleep problems and my anxiety, it seemed clear that I should give caffeine up completely. So, I decided to do just that. I made it my new year’s resolution to quit, and spent the last week of the year tapering down.

Withdrawal Symptoms

It’s surprising to many people, but quitting caffeine can actually cause significant withdrawal symptoms. Fortunately, I got off fairly easy.

The worst symptoms that I experienced when quitting caffeine were a terrible headache and a bit of confusion. Both lasted less than a week.

I also felt a little groggy and out of it, which was a more subtle feeling but lasted much longer. It was hard to tell exactly when this stopped, but it was around a month or two after quitting caffeine.

Ironically, my sleep actually got worse when I first transitioned from little caffeine to zero caffeine. I’m still not sure if this was caused by the switch, or pure coincidence. Over the next month or so, it started to get better again.

Overall, the withdrawal symptoms were really no big deal at all. I’ve previously quit much more damaging substances (cigarettes and alcohol), and the caffeine withdrawal wasn’t anywhere near as bad as either of those. It wasn’t even in the same ballpark.

On the other hand, I have read a few people who say just the opposite. When it comes to withdrawal symptoms, they can really vary from person to person. The one thing that you can do to reliably reduce them is to taper off of caffeine before quitting entirely.

I previously wrote up a full timeline of the symptoms I experienced, in case you’re curious in seeing them in even more detail:

The Early Benefits of Quitting Caffeine

During my first few months caffeine-free, I was extremely happy with my decision. My sleep had gotten better, and my anxiety had dramatically improved.

I’ve since read multiple studies, as well as many anecdotal reports, which link caffeine and anxiety. The connection is incredibly well documented, and I’m still surprised that I hadn’t understood it sooner.

I really can’t overstate how much of an immediate impact this had on me. I wish I had tried quitting caffeine far sooner, and I think anyone who suffers from anxiety should consider giving it a try.

Another major benefit that I experienced early on was that I started saving money by not buying coffee and soda. It wasn’t a huge, life-changing amount, but it was still a few bucks a day. Over the course of a year, that will add up to over a thousand, which is nothing to shake a stick at.

Nine Months Later

I’ve spent a lot of time reading the accounts of other people who quit caffeine (mostly through the “decaf” subreddit) and one of the things that has struck me is how few people seem to stay caffeine-free long-term.

Plenty of people quit for a few days, but very few seem to last past a couple of months. After nine months without caffeine, I think I’m starting to understand why.

Although I felt like I experienced huge benefits when first quitting caffeine, most of those changes seem to have worn off. My sleep got better, but then got worse again. My anxiety is better than this time last year, but I definitely still have it.

I have a couple of theories for why this is the case. First, there’s a chance that all the original changes were just the placebo effect. I think this is a little unlikely though, because there have been many research studies linking caffeine to poor sleep and anxiety.

My second theory is that the stress of this year (dealing with the pandemic, including getting laid off from my job) has cancelled out any of the positive effects of quitting caffeine. I think this is much more likely.

I suspect that if I were still drinking caffeine, my anxiety and sleep problems would be even worse right now.

On a more positive note, I’ve noticed that even without caffeine, I still have just as much energy as ever. I always felt like a cup of coffee helped me wake up and stay focused. It turns out, I can do those things just fine even without the help of caffeine.

After nine months, I don’t have a final verdict on caffeine yet, but I’m still glad that I’ve tried this experiment. Quitting hasn’t completely changed my life, but it hasn’t had any negative effects either. I certainly plan to stay off caffeine for now, but it’s in part just because I don’t see any reason to go back to it.

Despite my ambivalence, I’d still recommend to any caffeine drinkers that they give quitting a try. It’s absolutely been interesting to see what it’s like to go without a substance that so many of us take for granted.

I spent most of my life thinking caffeine was a helpful tool, but now I can see that it really wasn’t helping much at all.

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more. Buy me a “coffee” at ko-fi.com/benyaclark.

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