Why and How to Kick the Caffeine Habit
Did you know that caffeine is classified as a psychoactive drug? And the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world at that! In the US, nearly 85% of us drink caffeine every single day. (1) We are a caffeinated culture. Just because something is so common, does not mean that it should be accepted without question. Let’s pick it apart a bit.
How does caffeine work?
Within 30-60 minutes of that first glorious sip of coffee, the caffeine has been absorbed from your small intestine and is at peak levels in your blood stream. (2) It can quickly cross the blood brain barrier, where it can bathe your brain in caffeine. It’s here that caffeine does the work behind its most famous attribute – waking you up!
It makes you feel alive and alert because of the fact that it looks so much like the molecule adenosine. In this context, adenosine is your body’s “chill out” signal. When adenosine binds its receptor in the brain it signals to you that you’re tired, and that it’s time to move slowly and rest. But who’s got time for rest, right? When caffeine is in the picture, it will fill up the adenosine receptors, effectively blocking your body’s signal to that you are tired. (2)
You better believe the body knows how important it is to rest! So important in fact, that it keeps putting more and more of these adenosine receptors on brain cells, hoping to catch some of the signal and slow you down. That’s why you get the feeling caffeine doesn’t work on you - because you need more and more caffeine to fill all the receptors sites that wouldn’t be there if you didn’t drink so much caffeine. Oh, funny. As with all addictive things, caffeine comes with a hit of the feel-good molecule dopamine that keeps us coming back for more. (3)
In addition to blocking the brake pedal that is adenosine, also pumps the gas by triggering the release of Stimulating molecules like epinephrine and norepinephrine. (4) These are your “get up and go” molecules. They’re designed to be released in response to a threat to your safety, so you can see how they’d be helpful in getting you out the door in the morning.
Why ditch the habit?
At the time of writing, I’m only a few months into the caffeine-free lifestyle and I am truly digging it. I’ll tell you the most compelling reasons I came up with for myself to quit, perhaps we have them in common.
1. To deepen your relationship with yourself.
These days I want to listen more closely to my body, and quitting caffeine kinda forced me to do that. Drinking caffeine is almost always with the intention to ignore our body’s signals, to push it to do more than it wants. Quitting caffeine allowed me to learn my own limits. Respecting those limits feels like a sweet act of self-kindness, and that deepens my self-healing practice daily.
2. So caffeine will “work” on you again.
I was one of those people that could drink a pot of coffee a day and not feel any different. Of course in retrospect I can see that my baseline was totally off and I had to drink that much caffeine just to feel normal. I haven’t had a cup of coffee yet, but when I do I’m really hoping I feel the charge! I aim to treat it like the drug it is, and really enjoy it when I indulge.
3. To take your sleep to the next level.
There’s good sleep and there’s bad sleep. In terms of the brain waves states you cycle through while sleeping, good sleep is rhythmic. If you have a nice rhythmic night of brain wave cycling, you will wake up feeling fantastic. Caffeine throws a wrench in this rhythm by disrupting the timing of your brain wave states. (5) This can cause you to wake up feeling more groggy and in need of more caffeine! Studies estimate a conservative suggestion to avoid caffeine at least 6 hours before bedtime, because of the significant disruption it can cause to your sleep. (6)
Some tips to help you quit:
1. Use it as an opportunity to get to know yourself.
No need to commit to life of caffeine-freedom. Take the pressure off and just experiment a little. I am certain that you are a very interesting and unique person in general, and specifically when it comes to caffeine. Why do you use caffeine? What does it give you? What happens if you don’t use it? Is that OK? Caffeine is a mask of sorts. Get curious about what you’re like behind the mask.
2. Know your why.
Perhaps you share one of my reasons for quitting above, or have completely different ones. Know why you want to make this change in your life, and remind yourself of it when your ego tries to tell you that your idea to drop the habit was a silly one. You can do it, you just have to know why you’re doing it.
You do not have to go through the pain of caffeine withdrawal, unless you’re a rip-the-bandaid-off sort like me. (Worst. Headache. Ever.) It’s theoretically very easy to wean yourself off of caffeine. You just get yourself down to one cup per day, then slowly decrease the caffeine content in that one cup to zero. You can do this by blending your caffeinated coffee with increasing amounts of decaf or herbal alternatives. You can also do it with black tea because you can control the caffeine content by how long you steep the tea. You would just steep the tea for a shorter and shorter amount of time, switching to herbal tea when it makes sense for you.
I hope you will all consider dropping your caffeine habits, or feel like a genius if you’ve already quit. Let me know in the comments your tips for quitting caffeine, you never know who will benefit from reading it!