Caffeine Weaning: the Good, the Bad, and the Sleepy
Oof. I am in the process of weaning myself off of caffeine and it is so incredibly hard. From time to time I have these moments of why the hell am I subjecting myself to this? But I know that ultimately it’s a good idea for my body, a challenge to get out of a habit that isn’t serving me as much as I would like it to, and to hopefully take back some of my energy that always seems to be waning come 2 PM.
Each day I get a few DM’s about how the journey to less caffeine intake is going. To be honest, it’s taken me a while to put my thoughts together because (ironically) I am not as caffeinated as I would like to be! So, in this moment I am blasting Odesza and pretending that I just slammed back three espresso shots. Wish me luck.
MY RELATIONSHIP WITH CAFFEINE
Let’s just get right into the nitty gritty here - I started consuming caffeine regularly in early high school. Believe it or not, I was a hardcore ballerina and would spend my summer at ballet intensive camps away from home. Class started pretty early, which was hard for my teenage body, but we also were ballerinas so we weren’t eating very much. The combination of a growing body and inadequate nutrition = very sleepy girl. The dining hall that we ate in had coffee, so I started having a cup each morning to give me the energy that I wasn’t getting from my nutrition. I loved it. I have always been a high-energy person, and caffeine made me feel like myself. (I realize this makes me sound like I was doing something much worse than caffeine, but bear with me here, ha!) My disordered eating, as is the case for most people, came to visit off and on for years. Caffeine became a crutch to get me through the day.
Then college happened! My eating issues had subsided, but I was on the rowing team which meant waking up very fucking early. There were many mornings when I was leaving for practice at the same time that my roommates or neighbors were coming home from a night out, because rowing needs to happen when the water is the flattest - usually bright and early. In college my caffeine habit continued out of necessity. My teammates and I were napping whenever we could, constantly falling asleep in class, and trying to navigate having some semblance of a social life when we had to go to bed early and everybody else wanted to stay up until 2 AM. I always joke that Dan and I ended up together because we had the same weird schedule in college. Like, obviously he’s my soulmate, but I think it helped a little.
Post-college the caffeine habit just stuck. I was working at Amazon when this article came out. As you can imagine, expectations were high and we worked crazy hours - fueled by coffee. For quite a few years I was working full time and then coming home to work on Donuts + Down Dog. It was a lot. I haven’t always been the greatest at managing my time, so I was sleeping less and less. And look - this is normal. it’s normal to build a career and to be sleep deprived and to over correct with caffeine. I just kept drinking more and more of it (or often taking caffeine pills) until the point where caffeine stopped working for me. Which leads me to the current moment.
WHY I DECIDED TO CUT BACK
I decided to wean myself off of caffeine after realizing how much I was consuming and what a minimal impact it was having on me. I could drink an Americano and then immediately fall asleep! I was drinking so much caffeine so regularly that it just wasn’t working to perk me up anymore. I constantly felt exhausted, dehydrated (caffeine is a diuretic so it will dehydrate you) and my sleep schedule was getting all messed up. Even though I didn’t feel energized, I would lay in bed for hours every night trying to fall asleep. No bueno.
I also am a big believer in challenging my body every now and then - it’s amazing what bodies can do. This is the same reason that I’ve trained for half marathons or subjected myself to juice cleanses. I like making myself try new things. Cutting back on caffeine seemed like a good challenge. It also seemed like something that would force me to really examine my nutrition and my sleep habits.
Another thing - caffeine has no nutritional value. The energy that we get from caffeine isn’t really energy at all, it’s just your adrenaline kicking in. When you have caffeine, your body is essentially going into a light version of fight or flight. Fight or flight was an important survival mechanism back in the day, but not really something that I need when I’m chilling in my office thinking about how to talk about CBD gummies, you know? I’ve been really honest here about my own struggles with anxiety. I realized that my caffeine habit was kicking my anxiety into overdrive. I was ready to chilllllll.
HOW IT (REALLY) FEELS TO CUT BACK ON CAFFEINE
Terrible! The end.
Ok, kidding. Kind of. Cutting back on caffeine is really hard, though! I asked for your advice on Instagram, and the general feedback was to not go cold turkey. Instead I started slowly weaning myself down to one caffeinated beverage a day. The first week was incredibly hard. I kept accidentally having more than one beverage, I felt exhausted all the time, and I was incredibly irritable. I would hit a wall each afternoon of sheer exhaustion that made me feel like a toddler on the brink of a tantrum, it was so ridiculous.
I also noticed how much of a ritual caffeine is in my life. When I need a break in the middle of my work day, I walk to the coffee shop and grab a drip coffee. When I’m feeling uninspired, I tell myself I just need a little boost and grab some caffeine. It was such a crutch! Weaning myself off of caffeine has been a big challenge in discipline for me. Not just in telling myself no to getting coffee, but more so in telling myself that I don’t need to be fully caffeinated to get work done.
I started to think that this would never get easier and that maybe my body just didn’t know how to function without caffeine. Then, about two and a half weeks in, things very suddenly turned around. I felt really good! In general I notice that I feel a lot calmer, I’m able to focus for longer, and my energy levels are a lot more stable and predictable throughout the day. There have even been a handful of days that I’ve forgotten to have any caffeine, which for me is a huge accomplishment. Yesterday I treated myself to an energy drink as my caffeine of the day and I felt like I was losing my mind - it wasn’t enjoyable at all.
There have been many, many times that I wanted to throw this whole caffeine weaning situation out the window and start slamming espresso shots. What’s gotten me through it is knowing that I am slowly adjusting and that it feels really good.
The big question has been - will you wean yourself off of caffeine completely? Honestly - I’m not sure. I would like to say that I will go for a few weeks completely without any caffeine, but I’m not sure if that’s totally doable for me. I also don’t know if I really want to? I’ll obviously keep you posted.
Quite a few of you have asked for tips on cutting back on caffeine and the things that have worked for me. I started putting it together and this post turned into a novel, so I am going to post my tips + suggestions separately.