I'm a woman in her 20s with a full-time job, romantic relationship, and decent social life—and finding the energy to go to the office and spend quality time with my boyfriend and friends has been no easy feat. Add in a committed gym regimen and a love of binge watching Netflix, and it seems nearly impossible to stay awake through it all without caffeine.
Currently, I drink between 2 and 3 cups of coffee every day and honestly I cannot imagine my life without it. Coffee is ingrained in my morning routine, and it’s helped me get through more midday slumps than I can count.
Still, I’ve been in situations where I’ve downed too many cups of joe and turned into a jittery mess. And recently, I suspect my afternoon coffee fix has made it harder for me to fall asleep at night. It made me wonder: What would happen if I eliminated not just coffee, but all caffeine for five days straight? I was fearful of the withdrawal symptoms I'd heard about like headaches and anxiety, but decided it was worth a try for my overall health (not to mention my wallet).
The rules: I would steer clear of any and all caffeine including tea, chocolate, and soda for five days and see how I fared. (Luckily, I'm not a chocoholic, so I wasn't worried about that; coffee is much more ingrained in my daily life than chocolate.) This way, I would be able to reap the true benefits of a no-caffeine lifestyle.
Day one: craving a warm cup
When I arrived at my office on Monday, I already felt out of sorts without my usual morning coffee. And like most offices, the temperature in mine feels sub-zero; all I wanted was a hot mug of coffee to hold on to and sip leisurely. Instead, I made myself a cup of chamomile tea, which is naturally caffeine-free. It helped me stop shivering, but I still felt off.
“Eating a piece of fruit can perk you up with its natural sugars,” Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a nutrition expert and author of Eating in Color, told me. So to compensate for my lack of joe, I tried eating an apple and drinking a tall glass of water and orange juice.
To my surprise the fruit worked, and in about 20 minutes I felt awake enough to concentrate on my work. For the rest of the day, I didn’t feel overly tired or experience headaches or other typical caffeine withdrawal side effects. Maybe I wasn’t as addicted as I thought I was.
In fact, Largeman-Roth says people who drink more than 400 mg of caffeine a day (the equivalent of five 8-ounce cups of coffee) are more likely to experience withdrawal symptoms like headaches and irritability. Luckily, I didn’t normally drink that much caffeine, so I figured I was in the clear.
Day two: crabby from caffeine withdrawal
Why is everyone walking so slowly? Why is that guy talking so loudly? Why is New York filled with so many weird people? That was the extent of my Tuesday morning mindset. Everyone and anyone was getting on my nerves, even when it came to the little annoyances I could typically brush off. What made matters worse was the fact I couldn’t boost my mood with a morning caffeine fix. Sigh.
Since Largeman-Roth mentioned irritability and fatigue as common symptoms of caffeine withdrawal, I knew that what I was experiencing was normal. “Drinking lots of water and getting regular sleep will help, but some people do just have to struggle through for a bit,” she noted. I drank a couple of large glasses of water and hoped for the best.
Later in the day, I became extremely lethargic, but knew I had to rough it out for a 7:30 p.m. boxing class with friends. So I did the only thing a smart caffeine-abstaining person can do: Book an hour-long nap in a nap pod.
If there’s one thing in this world I love more than coffee, it’s naps. So before going caffeine-free, I did my research and founds a yoga studio near my office with nap “pods.” Basically, you can pay to nap in a private room with a bed, twinkly lights, and noise-canceling headphones.
I took my tired self to the yoga studio for naptime and, let me tell you, it was amazing. I passed out for 40 minutes and when I woke up, I felt like a new person. Afterward, I headed to my boxing workout with an extra burst of much-needed energy, no caffeine needed.
Day three: exhaustion sets in
I woke up easier than usual on Day Three and got right to work; it was snowing outside, and I therefore didn’t have to go into the office. An hour into my work-at-home day, I wanted my morning caffeine boost so badly. Still, I pushed through.
One hour later, I woke up. That’s right, folks: I fell asleep. At my own computer. I’m not sure if it was working from my couch or the lack of coffee pulsing through my veins, or a mixture of the two, but I couldn’t believe I just conked out like that. But truth be told, my nap helped me get through the remainder of the day with ease and energy.
Day four: sleeping better
Day Four, otherwise known as Bagel Thursday in my office, was a tough one. I couldn’t drink the free cold brew in the kitchen, so I drowned my sorrows in more chamomile tea. Somehow, I made it through another day without the extra caffeine burst, but by the time I got home, I was ready to fall asleep. I tucked myself in at 9:30 p.m. and drifted off more easily than I had in a long time.
Day five: missing the coffee ritual
By Day Five, I actually craved the taste of coffee and realized that more than the energy boost it provided, I missed the ritual of my morning cup. I didn’t feel less energetic or more irritable or have a raging caffeine withdrawal headache; rather, I just wanted to sip of the good stuff because it tasted good.
As for chocolate, I did crave a little, probably because I wasn't getting any of that rich flavor that I usually would from my coffee. It was more about the flavor than the caffeine when it came to chocolate.
After tucking myself into bed for the night, I was more than excited for the next day—when my coffee ban was over and I could bring back caffeine into my routine.
Is no caffeine the way to go?
My week with caffeine taught me more about myself: I like a consistent morning routine, and I like it to include a cup or two of coffee. But more importantly, my lack of caffeine showed me how dependent I’d become on the stuff for energy. Rather than making sure I get eight hours of sleep or drink enough water, I was using coffee and tea to boost my energy levels.
This challenge has made me rethink my afternoon cup. Now, instead of heading to the work coffee machine or shelling out $5 for cold brew at 3 p.m., I take a lap around the office and chug a glass of water. I’m hoping my new habits will make my nightly sleep routine more solid, which so far, it has been.
But coffee fans, have no fear: I haven’t given up on the stuff just yet. In fact, I’m drinking a steaming hot mug of it as I type this.