Coffee detox: quitting caffeine for a month

What I did and why

In the last week of 2023, while listening to the Tim Ferriss podcast during a run, I got inspired to stop drinking coffee for a bit. The idea sounded like an interesting experiment to start of the new year. I decided to quit caffeine the next day and continue throughout all of January. The ground rules: no coffee (also no decaf), no caffeinated tea and no caffeinated soft drinks (except for the occasional coke).

I’m not a coffee addict in the sense that I drink a lot of coffee on any given day. However, I don’t go a day without. My brain always finds a way to justify drinking a cappuccino. I thought it would be good for me to interrupt this behavioural pattern. I was also interested to learn how hard it would be to quit and what the effects on my sleep and stress levels would be.

My strategy was to replace coffee with non caffeinated tea. My favourites were rooibos and ginger tea. At the start of the experiment I bought fresh loose leaf rooibos tea at Roemar, a local speciality coffee and tea shop in Deventer. Having a hot beverage to replace my daily coffee ritual made all the difference and kept me sane throughout the detox. Finally, I picked a target date. On the 3rd of February I had plans to visit Haarlem with a friend. This provided a good opportunity to pick a nice place to have my first coffee of 2024 and gave me something to look forward to.

The moment of salvation: a cappuccino at Native in Haarlem

How it went and what I learned

Quitting caffeine cold turkey, like I did, may cause withdrawal symptoms. These can include: headaches, decreased alertness and depressed mood. I was afraid I might suffer from withdrawal. While I didn’t experience any physical symptoms, I did feel slightly down from time to time as my daily moment of joy was temporarily unavailable. In other words, I didn’t get my fix and it sucked.

The quality of my sleep improved immediately. I used my smartwatch to track my sleep and noticed right away that it was easier to fall asleep and to sleep through the night. This observation left a strong impression on me. I thought coffee didn’t affect my sleep too much and already tried to avoid caffeine after 14:00. However, this observation really makes me question that second cup of coffee I tend to drink after lunch.

I also found that cutting caffeine helped me manage stress levels better. When I’m starting to feel overwhelmed I have a natural tendency to drink more coffee. When this happens I always feel worse. The act brings some temporary relief, but always backfires by making me feel more anxious. Not worth.

My energy levels throughout the day were more stable. Days no longer felt like a rollercoaster, constantly moving between peaks and crashes in focus. This way I felt more in control of my mood and more in touch with my body. It made more more stable and consistent, but also was monotonous.

This brings me to my last point, not drinking caffeine was boring. I missed the excitement of coffee. I missed something to look forward to in my mornings and I missed the experience of grabbing a coffee at the local coffee shop. I was grateful for tea, but it didn’t quite do it for me. I found myself reaching for hot chocolate in the afternoons, just to have something with a little more zing.

In summary, banning caffeine from my life for a month was challenging but rewarding. It improved my sleep, made me less stressed and stabilised my moods. On the other hand, I missed out on some of the excitement of life which made me feel a little sad at times. I’m thrilled to welcome coffee back into my life and have learned a thing or two about the way I want to approach caffeine going forward. The most important insight I picked up along the way is that coffee tends to speed up life, while sometimes all wee need is to simply slow down (like a lot).

What I will do differently going forward

  • Taking more frequent breaks from things I take for granted to reground and gain renewed appreciation
  • Think twice before consuming caffeine when stressed
  • Limit coffee to the morning and focus on saviouring the moment
  • Drink more tea (preferably fresh and non caffeinated. Tea is fun and delicious!