I went 14 days without caffeine, and I may have kicked my bad habit for good
INSIDER 2hrs ago
a person holding a glass of wine: My caffeine intake increased at the beginning of 2020. Jen Glantz for Insider © Jen Glantz for Insider My caffeine intake increased at the beginning of 2020. Jen Glantz for Insider

I didn't always drink a lot of caffeine.

I hardly enjoyed the taste of coffee until my mid-20s, and I made an effort to limit my soda intake as much as I could.

But when the coronavirus pandemic hit the US at the beginning of 2020, I started working longer hours from home to make up for lost income, and I turned to caffeine to help me stay awake.

The more I relied on caffeine, the more my tolerance grew, and pretty soon, I needed a third cup of coffee just to feel the energy one cup used to give me.

But by the end of the day, my heart felt like it was beating faster, I couldn't relax, and it was difficult to fall asleep.

According to Dr. Giuseppe Aragona, a general practitioner and online doctor, a caffeine dependency like this isn't sustainable in the long run. 

"Imagine your body like your finances. Running it on caffeine is the same as surviving through credit cards," he told Insider. "Eventually, the bank (your body in this case) will want to cash-in, and this makes it much more likely for you to become lethargic, lose focus, and by the end of the day, want to achieve nothing."

So I decided to remove all caffeinated drinks from my life for two weeks, no matter how awful it felt. 

Here's what happened throughout the 14 days:

Right away, I realized how much caffeine was integrated into my routines

Drinking caffeine was a huge part of my daily routine.

I usually had three to four cups of coffee in the morning, a soda during lunch, an energy drink in the mid-afternoon, and caffeinated tea to carry me to the finish line of the workday.

Without those drinks, my eating and drinking rituals felt off.

a woman drinking from a cup: I swapped many of my caffeinated drinks with water. Jen Glantz for Insider © Jen Glantz for Insider I swapped many of my caffeinated drinks with water. Jen Glantz for Insider

I decided to go through the motions of filling up my usual coffee cup with decaf liquids throughout the day.

I started with three cups of lemon water in the morning, added a can of seltzer water with lunch, had a decaf soda in the afternoon, and ended with a decaf tea after that.

Though the effects, at first, were hardly helpful or the same as caffeine, the act of getting up from my desk and going to the kitchen to refill my mug made the day a bit more bearable.

I felt the need to take mini naps throughout the day

Dr. Aragona also told me that kicking all the caffeine could help me find a more natural body rhythm and reduce my anxiety levels. But along the way, I would likely be pretty sleepy.


Gallery: 21 Motivational Coffee Mugs For a Great Day at Work (PopSugar)

"Of course, you will still get tired, but this is natural, and all caffeine is doing is saving that tiredness for later - and likely in a larger dose after you force your body into overdrive," he added. 

The first three days were awful. I felt lethargic, had really gnarly headaches, and could barely make it to 10 a.m. without wanting to crash and take a nap.

It hit me how much I had ruined my natural rhythms by infusing my day with way too much caffeine. 

On the first day, I took a one-hour nap at lunchtime. The next few days, I skipped that and forced myself to get natural energy from other things - like walks outside and morning exercise - which I think helped a little. 

I started feeling less anxious without all of the caffeine

a woman sitting on a table: Removing excess caffeine from my diet made me feel a little less anxious. Jen Glantz for Insider © Jen Glantz for Insider Removing excess caffeine from my diet made me feel a little less anxious. Jen Glantz for Insider

As my caffeine intake increased this year, so did my anxiety.

According to clinical psychologist Sabrina Romanoff, caffeine may provide a burst of energy, but that reaction stimulates the sympathetic nervous system's "fight or flight response," leading to an array of hormonal changes in your body. 

"This often leads to elevations in levels of anxiety, edginess, rapid heartbeat, and can even exacerbate precursors to panic attacks," she told Insider. "If you are predisposed to experience anxiety, caffeine may exacerbate your symptoms."

Weaning off of caffeine did help me feel less anxious, especially as the days went on.

I was a little more tired throughout the day, but I was finally sleeping better

Before, it was hard to fall asleep most nights because I was drinking caffeine until at least 7 p.m.

Romanoff explained that regular caffeine consumption can have a strong impact on your circadian rhythm and sleep cycle. 

"The result of caffeine intake can lead to interrupted or restless sleep, daytime lethargy," she said. "This effect is magnified if you drink coffee before bed."

Without caffeine, I was more tired at the end of the day. But when I was ready for bed at 10 p.m., I fell asleep almost instantly - which hadn't happened since the start of my caffeine spike.

After about a week, I felt like a different person

As the days went on, I wasn't craving those caffeinated beverages as much, and I stopped feeling so tired all of the time.

This took at least four days to slowly kick in, and by day seven, I felt like a different person. 

Romanoff explained that I may have felt better because caffeine can impact your body's ability to absorb certain nutrients that keep it running smoothly. 

"The cause behind this effect is due to tannins found in caffeine, which is believed to inhibit the absorption of certain nutrients such as calcium, iron, and B vitamins," she told Insider. "Caffeine can also cause a dysregulation in your brain chemistry, just like other dependence inducing drugs do."

I wasn't desperate to go back to caffeine after the challenge was over

a person drinking from a cup: I made it through the two weeks and regained control over my dependency. Jen Glantz for Insider © Jen Glantz for Insider I made it through the two weeks and regained control over my dependency. Jen Glantz for Insider

By the end of the two weeks, I honestly felt a lot more in control of my mind, body, and life. And I didn't miss caffeine as much as I thought I would.

When the challenge was over, I decided to integrate coffee back into my day, letting myself have one cup in the morning if I felt like it. But I vowed to kick energy drinks, soda, and caffeinated tea for good because it no longer felt necessary to drink all of those things.

I was proud of the progress I made after two weeks, and I wanted to make sure I didn't let my caffeine intake get out of control again.

One cup a coffee a day seemed like a good compromise, at least for now. 

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