Cutting Out Caffeine: 11 Things To Expect When You Begin

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If you like to start your day with a cup of coffee, you aren’t alone. 

In fact, according to a 2019 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, about 90% of American adults consume caffeine regularly and the majority of habitual caffeine consumption is from coffee drinking.

I am in the caffeine-free minority because I quit caffeine a few years ago after I heard that coffee can interfere with calcium absorption,1Pereira, G. A. P., Genaro, P. S., Pinheiro, M. M., Szejnfeld, V. L., & Martini, L. A. (2009). Cálcio dietético: estratégias para otimizar o consumo. Revista Brasileira de Reumatologia49(2), 164–171. https://doi.org/10.1590/s0482-50042009000200008 and in addition, it seemed to be compromising my sleep quality.2Watson, E., Coates, A., Kohler, M., & Banks, S. (2016). Caffeine Consumption and Sleep Quality in Australian Adults. Nutrients8(8), 479. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu8080479

In this guide to cutting out caffeine, we will discuss the effects of caffeine on the body, common symptoms of caffeine withdrawal, and the potential benefits of eliminating coffee and caffeine from your diet.

A variety of different cups of coffee, sugar and milk.

Is Caffeine Bad for You?

Before we discuss the typical caffeine withdrawal symptoms and what changes you can expect with a caffeine-free life, let’s cover why people experience side effects when they quit caffeine.

Caffeine is a natural, psychoactive drug3Addicott, M. A. (2014). Caffeine Use Disorder: A Review of the Evidence and Future Implications. Current Addiction Reports1(3), 186–192. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40429-014-0024-9 that acts as a central nervous system stimulant.

Caffeine is found in sources such as green tea, yerba mate, coffee, black tea, energy drinks, cola-type sodas, dark chocolate, and pre-workout athletics performance enhancement products that use synthetic caffeine or coffee bean extracts or green tea extracts.

Survey-based research studies4Sajadi-Ernazarova, K. R., Anderson, J., Dhakal, A., & Hamilton, R. J. (2022). Caffeine Withdrawal. PubMed; StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430790/#:~:text=Typically%2C%20the%20onset%20of%20symptoms have estimated that about 80-90% of adults in the United States consume caffeine daily, with the average daily caffeine consumption being approximately 280 mg.

This average caffeine intake works out to about 1 to 2 cups of coffee or cans of energy drinks, (depending on the coffee or energy drink), or 3 to 5 cola sodas per day.

The caffeine content in different types of caffeinated beverages and products varied widely, ranging from 5 to 10 mg in decaffeinated coffee or tea to upwards of 800 mg in a cup of Death Wish Coffee, the most heavily caffeinated coffee in the world.

An average 8-ounce cup of coffee has about 100 mg of caffeine.5Commissioner, O. of the. (2021). Spilling the Beans: How Much Caffeine is Too Much? FDA. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/spilling-beans-how-much-caffeine-too-much#:~:text=For%20reference%2C%20a%2012%20ounce

Health providers6Mayo Clinic. (2020, March 6). Caffeine: How much is too much? Mayo Clinic; Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/caffeine/art-20045678 generally recommend that adults consume 400 milligrams of caffeine per day, and adolescents and children consume significantly less.

Scrabble tiles that spell out caffeine.

How Does Caffeine Work In the Body?

Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant because it competitively binds to adenosine receptors in the brain.

Adenosine is a compound that causes drowsiness or fatigue, so drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages helps you feel more energized, alert, and potentially even jittery.

This is because adenosine cannot interact with brain cells because caffeine blocks the receptors.

Another physiological effect of caffeine on the human body is that it increases glucose utilization in a part of the brain called the caudate nucleus. This part plays a key role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle and mediating motor activities.7O’Callaghan, F., Muurlink, O., & Reid, N. (2018). Effects of caffeine on sleep quality and daytime functioning. Risk Management and Healthcare PolicyVolume 11(1), 263–271. https://doi.org/10.2147/rmhp.s156404

This is why excessive caffeine consumption can cause alertness and potentially insomnia, jitters, and faster reaction time.

Caffeine has also been found to stimulate the release of dopamine in the prefrontal cortex of the brain.8Acquas, E. (2002). Differential Effects of Caffeine on Dopamine and Acetylcholine Transmission in Brain Areas of Drug-naive and Caffeine-pretreated Rats. Neuropsychopharmacology27(2), 182–193. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0893-133x(02)00290-7

Three cappuchinos.

‌Like other addictive substances, the dopamine response from a cup of coffee further reinforces the addictive nature of caffeine.9Addicott, M. A. (2014). Caffeine Use Disorder: A Review of the Evidence and Future Implications. Current Addiction Reports1(3), 186–192. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40429-014-0024-9

After drinking a cup of coffee or other source of caffeine, the caffeine is rapidly metabolized and absorbed into the bloodstream. 

Peak blood caffeine levels are usually reached about 30 to 45 minutes (but up to 120 minutes) after consuming a caffeinated substance.

Caffeine is processed in the liver10Meredith, S. E., Juliano, L. M., Hughes, J. R., & Griffiths, R. R. (2013). Caffeine Use Disorder: a Comprehensive Review and Research Agenda. Journal of Caffeine Research3(3), 114–130. https://doi.org/10.1089/jcr.2013.0016 and excreted in the urine after passing through the kidneys and has a half-life of about 4 to 6 hours.11Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Military Nutrition Research. (2014). Pharmacology of Caffeine. National Library of Medicine; National Academies Press (US). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK223808/

Because caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant, consuming too much caffeine12Winston, A. P., Hardwick, E., & Jaberi, N. (2005). Neuropsychiatric effects of caffeine. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment11(6), 432–439. https://doi.org/10.1192/apt.11.6.432 can cause side effects such as nervousness, jitteriness, anxiety, increased blood pressure, heart palpitations, difficulty sleeping, irritability, tension, and even exacerbated panic attacks.

For instance, evidence suggests13Steinke, L., Lanfear, D. E., Dhanapal, V., & Kalus, J. S. (2009). Effect of “Energy Drink” Consumption on Hemodynamic and Electrocardiographic Parameters in Healthy Young Adults. Annals of Pharmacotherapy43(4), 596–602. https://doi.org/10.1345/aph.1l614 that energy drinks may increase blood pressure and heart rate, and over-consuming energy drinks has been linked to serious medical issues including liver damage,14Energy Drinks. (2012). PubMed; National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK559836/ heart arrhythmias,15Wassef, B., Kohansieh, M., & Makaryus, A. N. (2017). Effects of energy drinks on the cardiovascular system. World Journal of Cardiology9(11), 796–806. https://doi.org/10.4330/wjc.v9.i11.796 seizures,16Nadeem, I. M., Shanmugaraj, A., Sakha, S., Horner, N. S., Ayeni, O. R., & Khan, M. (2020). Energy Drinks and Their Adverse Health Effects: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach13(3), 265–277. https://doi.org/10.1177/1941738120949181 coma, and even death.17Avcı, S., Sarıkaya, R., & Büyükcam, F. (2013). Death of a young man after overuse of energy drink. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine31(11), 1624.e3–1624.e4. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajem.2013.06.031

A person with a headache holding the sides of their head.

What Are the Symptoms of Caffeine Withdrawal?

Multiple studies have found that regular caffeine consumption causes physiological and psychological dependence,18Sajadi-Ernazarova, K. R., & Hamilton, R. J. (2018, October 27). Caffeine, Withdrawal. Nih.gov; StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430790/ and you can develop a tolerance19Holtzman, S. G., & Finn, I. B. (1988). Tolerance to behavioral effects of caffeine in rats. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior29(2), 411–418. https://doi.org/10.1016/0091-3057(88)90179-7 to caffeine.

Therefore, suddenly quitting caffeine can cause a host of symptoms of withdrawal.

Various factors can affect the specific symptoms of caffeine withdrawal20Silverman, K., Evans, S. M., Strain, E. C., & Griffiths, R. R. (1992). Withdrawal Syndrome after the Double-Blind Cessation of Caffeine Consumption. New England Journal of Medicine327(16), 1109–1114. https://doi.org/10.1056/nejm199210153271601 you experience, including your own unique biochemistry, how much caffeine you have been consuming, whether you quit cold turkey or slowly taper your caffeine consumption, your caffeine tolerance, and your sensitivity to caffeine.

Here are some of the most common caffeine withdrawal symptoms:21Juliano, L. M., & Griffiths, R. R. (2004). A Critical Review of Caffeine withdrawal: Empirical Validation of Symptoms and signs, incidence, severity, and Associated Features. Psychopharmacology176(1), 1–29. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-004-2000-x

  • Fatigue
  • Decreased energy
  • Headache (reported in about 50% of people)22Juliano, L. M., & Griffiths, R. R. (2004). A Critical Review of Caffeine withdrawal: Empirical Validation of Symptoms and signs, incidence, severity, and Associated Features. Psychopharmacology176(1), 1–29. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-004-2000-x
  • Drowsiness
  • Decreased productivity
  • Moodiness or depression
  • Irritability
  • Brain fog
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle pain and stiffness
  • Changes in blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate
  • Insomnia or sleep disturbances
  • Anxiety
A bag of coffee beans.

Most experts say that caffeine withdrawal symptoms first begin to appear about 12 to 24 hours after quitting caffeine23Sajadi-Ernazarova, K. R., & Hamilton, R. J. (2018, October 27). Caffeine, Withdrawal. Nih.gov; StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430790/ cold turkey and may last up to nine days.

The peak of the severity of caffeine withdrawal symptoms seems to be around 20 hours to 3 days after eliminating caffeine.

If you have concerns about the severity of your caffeine withdrawal symptoms or if your caffeine withdrawal symptoms timeline seems to be extending significantly beyond a week or so, you should speak with your healthcare provider.

If you are experiencing dangerous symptoms of caffeine withdrawal, such as heart arrhythmias, rapid breathing, or a significant drop in blood pressure (hypotension) that leads to lightheadedness, dizziness, and difficulty walking or balancing, you should seek emergency medical help. 

The same guidelines apply to abnormalities with your heart rate or respiration rate.

The best way to decrease the severity of caffeine withdrawal symptoms is to taper off caffeine slowly rather than quit caffeine cold turkey.

Make sure to drink plenty of water and try to get extra sleep to combat extra tiredness from the lack of caffeine.

A person sleeping.

The Benefits Of Cutting Out Caffeine

We just covered the common symptoms of caffeine withdrawal, and while that may paint a pretty bleak outlook on cutting out caffeine, there are also some positive side effects or benefits of significantly reducing your caffeine intake or parting ways with your caffeine.

It is also important to note that the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal are going to be more pronounced if you quit caffeine cold turkey.

Although I am not a healthcare professional, as a certified nutrition coach, I usually recommend gradually cutting back your caffeine use until you have weaned off as a more manageable way to break your caffeine habit and embrace a caffeine-free lifestyle.

Here are some of the potential benefits of cutting out your morning cup of coffee or cutting out caffeine from your daily routine:

#1: Better Sleep Quality

Caffeine interferes with the part of the brain that regulates the sleep-wake cycle.

Plus, the half-life of caffeine is about six hours,24Drake, C., Roehrs, T., Shambroom, J., & Roth, T. (2013). Caffeine Effects on Sleep Taken 0, 3, or 6 Hours before Going to Bed. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine09(11). https://doi.org/10.5664/jcsm.3170 so if you have energy drinks, black tea, espresso, or a cup of Joe sometime after your morning cup of coffee, your caffeine habit may be compromising your sleep quality.25Roehrs, T., & Roth, T. (2008). Caffeine: Sleep and daytime sleepiness. Sleep Medicine Reviews12(2), 153–162. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smrv.2007.07.004

#2: Lower Blood Pressure and Heart Rate

Caffeine is a stimulant, so it increases blood pressure and heart rate.26Noordzij, M., Uiterwaal, C. S., Arends, L. R., Kok, F. J., Grobbee, D. E., & Geleijnse, J. M. (2005). Blood pressure response to chronic intake of coffee and caffeine: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Hypertension23(5), 921–928. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.hjh.0000166828.94699.1d

One of the things I noticed when I quit caffeine in favor of herbal tea is that my resting heart rate and blood pressure decreased.

A person walking and smiling.

#3: Less Anxiety

Caffeine increases energy levels but can also make you feel revved up due to its stimulation of the central nervous system and the fact that caffeine binds to the receptors that the drowsiness-inducing adenosine molecule is supposed to bind to.

This means that instead of the receptors getting the signal to make you tired, the central nervous system gets a psychoactive stimulant that increases energy levels.

Excessive caffeine can increase cortisol levels, which is a stress hormone.

Cutting out caffeine can help you manage anxiety and stress without having a psychoactive drug adding to the physiological stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system.27Ferré, S. (2008). An update on the mechanisms of the psychostimulant effects of caffeine. Journal of Neurochemistry105(4), 1067–1079. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-4159.2007.05196.x

#4: Weight Loss

Indeed, a cup of coffee, green tea, or other caffeine-containing beverage can boost metabolic rate, potentially supporting weight loss.

However, many caffeinated drinks are loaded with sugar, creamer, or milk, which can add calories to your diet.

If you swap a fancy Frappuccino, cappuccino, sugary energy drinks, and soda for water or plain herbal tea, you may lose weight.

#5: Less Spending

If you go to the coffee shop every morning or buy expensive coffee beans or energy drinks, quitting caffeine in favor of drinking water or home-brewed herbal tea can save you money.

A close-up of someone smiling.

#6: Better Overall Health and Wellness

The tannins in coffee and black tea have been found to interfere with the absorption of certain nutrients, particularly B vitamins, iron, and calcium.28Pereira, G. A. P., Genaro, P. S., Pinheiro, M. M., Szejnfeld, V. L., & Martini, L. A. (2009). Cálcio dietético: estratégias para otimizar o consumo. Revista Brasileira de Reumatologia49(2), 164–171. https://doi.org/10.1590/s0482-50042009000200008

‌These nutrients are important for maintaining optimal health and wellness.

#7: Better Athletic Performance 

Caffeine is used as an ergogenic aid because it can boost endurance, increase time to exhaustion, reduce ratings of perceived effort, and increase energy levels.

However, caffeine tolerance will reduce these positive effects.29Evans, M., Tierney, P., Gray, N., Hawe, G., Macken, M., & Egan, B. (2018). Acute Ingestion of Caffeinated Chewing Gum Improves Repeated Sprint Performance of Team Sport Athletes With Low Habitual Caffeine Consumption. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism28(3), 221–227. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.2017-0217

‌Plus, caffeine is a diuretic,30Maughan, R. J., & Griffin, J. (2003). Caffeine ingestion and fluid balance: a review. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics16(6), 411–420. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-277x.2003.00477.x so it increases urination, which can dehydrate you during exercise.

#8: Whiter Teeth and Better Breath

Your favorite cup of Joe or black tea may taste good as you sip it in the morning, but coffee stains your teeth and can erode enamel.31Ehlen, L. A., Marshall, T. A., Qian, F., Wefel, J. S., & Warren, J. J. (2008). Acidic beverages increase the risk of in vitro tooth erosion. Nutrition Research28(5), 299–303. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nutres.2008.03.001

Plus, no matter how often you brush your teeth in the morning, coffee breath may linger, which can be unpleasant for everyone around you!

#9: Balanced Hormones

Studies32Faubion, S. S., Sood, R., Thielen, J. M., & Shuster, L. T. (2015). Caffeine and menopausal symptoms: what is the association? Menopause (New York, N.Y.)22(2), 155–158. https://doi.org/10.1097/GME.0000000000000301 have found that excessive caffeine intake may disrupt proper hormonal balance for women.

A person drinking a cup of coffee from a to go cup.

#10: Less Heartburn

Coffee is acidic and can trigger acid reflux.

#11: More Stable Mood

As a psychoactive drug, caffeine addiction can lead to cravings, irritability, and mood swings when you don’t have your caffeine fix.

Breaking the caffeine habit frees your caffeine dependence and can help you regulate your emotions because you aren’t fighting cravings for a drug.33Nehlig, A. (1999). Are we dependent upon coffee and caffeine? A review on human and animal data. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews23(4), 563–576. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0149-7634(98)00050-5

Overall, there are plenty of benefits to quitting caffeine.

It can also be beneficial to taking a balanced approach to your caffeine intake in that you may occasionally enjoy drinking coffee in the morning or having an espresso with a friend, but you usually drink decaf coffee or herbal tea.

If you are thinking about doing a coffee detox or a caffeine detox, check out this next guide:

References

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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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