How to Quit Caffeine Without Feeling Exhausted

Thinking of quitting caffeine? These tips will help make giving up your morning coffee much easier.

Hand dumping coffee with woman waking up in bed in a blue and orange background
Photo: Getty Images - Design: Alex Sandoval

It's easy to have a love-hate relationship with caffeine. Your 8 a.m. Americano makes you wide-eyed and bushy-tailed for your morning meeting, but it also leaves you feeling jittery by the time lunch rolls around. A cup of afternoon tea prevents you from dozing off at your desk, but it also keeps you up hours past your bedtime. And once those cons start to outweigh those pros, you might be considering calling it quits on your relationship with caffeine.

But giving up your go-to fatigue-fighter doesn't have to be a miserable experience. Here, a registered dietitian gives tips on how to quit caffeine and make the transition as trouble-free — and energizing — as possible.

What Is Caffeine?

Caffeine is a naturally occurring substance found in more than 60 plants (think: coffee beans, tea leaves, cacao pods), though a synthetic version is often added to energy drinks, snacks, and bars, according to the National Library of Medicine (NLM). Upon consumption, caffeine blocks the neuromodulator adenosine from binding to its receptors in the brain. And this obstruction is what gives caffeine its energizing effects, as adenosine slows down neural activity and makes you feel sleepy when it binds to its receptors, according to research. Plus, it stimulates your central nervous system, increasing the rate that messages travel from your brain to your body, says Abby Chan, M.S., R.D.N., a registered dietitian nutritionist and the co-owner of EVOLVE Flagstaff in Arizona. "It gives your brain this energetic feeling — this alertness and acuity," she explains. Since caffeine is completely absorbed within 45 minutes of ingestion, you'll start to feel its energizing effects soon after you down your morning cup of Joe. (

How Much Caffeine Is Too Much?

Generally speaking, it's safe to consume about 400 milligrams of caffeine per day, which equates to four or five 8-ounce cups of regular coffee, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For reference, an 8-ounce cup of coffee typically contains 80 to 100 milligrams, an 8-ounce cup of green or black tea packs 30 to 50 milligrams, and a 12-ounce caffeinated soft drink boasts 30 to 40 milligrams. If you consume more than that amount, you could experience side effects such as shakiness, insomnia, headaches, dizziness, dehydration, and anxiety, according to the NLM.

That said, how quickly you metabolize caffeine, which is largely influenced by genetics, could impact just how strong of an effect it has on you, says Chan. Folks who break the stimulant down quickly will generally feel energetic and awake, and they may even notice an improvement in memory and mental functioning in as little as 15 minutes after sipping on a cup of coffee, she says. On the flip side, those who process it slowly will typically feel more sensitive to caffeine and experience heightened side effects, she adds.

"One of the signs of being one of these slower metabolizers of caffeine is a racing heartbeat," says Chan. "So, even if it's a normal cup of coffee, [you're] feeling like your heart's going to beat out of your chest, you're getting a headache, having jitters or anxiety, and, specifically, insomnia."

Who Should Consider Limiting or Quitting Caffeine?

Folks who are pregnant should generally cap their daily caffeine intake at 200 milligrams, as the stimulant can pass through the placenta to the baby, and there are concerns of a potential relationship between caffeine exposure and the incidence of miscarriage, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). (FTR, the ACOG states there isn't enough evidence to conclude whether there is a link between high caffeine intake and miscarriage.) You may also want to avoid or limit caffeine if you have migraines, anxiety, gastroesophageal reflux disease or ulcers, high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat, or a sleep disorder (e.g. insomnia), according to the NLM.

But medical reasons aren't the only reason to consider quitting caffeine, says Chan. "There are a lot of benefits to just not being reliant on something," she says. "Not feeling like, 'if I don't have this thing, I won't be able to function.'" That's why Chan encourages all regular caffeine users to take a good, hard look at their relationship with the stimulant and consider how it's benefitting — or negatively impacting — their life. "Just check in and see whether you feel better without this," she suggests. "...What are the benefits and how does it actually add to your life? Or is it affecting you and you don't even know?" Also think about the aspects of consuming caffeine you enjoy: Is it the taste of coffee, the smell of tea, or the comforting ritual of brewing a cup in the morning? And are there other caffeine-free ways you can get those same perks? (

How to Quit Caffeine

Regardless of the reason why you're giving up caffeine, you're best off gradually reducing your consumption vs. going cold turkey, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

After quitting caffeine, regular consumers may experience withdrawal symptoms, including headaches, fatigue, reduced energy and alertness, difficulty concentrating, and irritability, according to research published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).The more caffeine you regularly consumed before nixing it from your diet, the more severe these side effects may be. And these unpleasant symptoms develop fast: They typically kick off just 12 to 24 hours after quitting caffeine and can last up to nine days, suggests the NCBI research.

Slowly curbing your caffeine intake, however, may help prevent these symptoms, according to the NCBI — and won't feel as restrictive. If you typically have two cups of coffee a day, for example, slowly reduce your consumption to one cup, then switch to one cup ofhalf-caf and, eventually, decaf, suggests Chan. "Slowly start to wean yourself off of it so you don't have some of the negative effects, feeling like you can't focus or being that miserable human in the morning."

Even though decaf contains just 2 to 15 milligrams of caffeine per 8-ounce cup, the drink's similar flavor, combined with the ritualistic aspect of making and drinking a cup of Joe, might just trick your brain into thinking it's the real deal, says Chan. For the same reason, consider sipping on a caffeine-free beverage at the time you'd normally drink a latte or soda if you're quitting caffeine entirely right from day one, says Chan. "That can take the place of that comfort aspect so removing caffeine doesn't feel so abrupt."

In the instances you'd generally reach for a mug of matcha or cup of soda for some much-needed energy (think: that 3 p.m. slump), check in with your hunger cues, says Chan. "One of the signs of being hungry is feeling fatigued and not being able to focus," she explains. "So first and foremost, ask yourself, 'Do I need a snack?'" If you're feeling full and satisfied, consider how much water you've drank throughout the day, as fatigue can also be a sign of dehydration, according to the NLM. If your Hydro Flask is still filled to the brim, consider sipping on some of the H2O to restore your energy levels. If you're sure you're well-hydrated, "just go grab yourself a cup of herbal tea or something that's comforting," says Chan. "That can also be a distraction if you feel like you're in that mental slump."

You can also try consuming adaptogens (herbs and plants that are said to help the body offset the effects of stressful conditions), such as Rhodiola rosea and Schisandra chinensis, which research shows can have anti-fatigue effects."Blends of ashwagandha and reishi can also improve focus and mental functioning without giving you that jittery, super-energetic feeling," says Chan. "But with those, you need to remember, if you're getting it in some sort of powder, the supplement industry is not regulated. So what they're saying is in it may not actually be in it." (And remember, it's always a good idea to check in with your doctor before adding any supplements to your routine.)

As you make this transition to a caffeine-free lifestyle, continue to ask yourself how you're feeling, suggests Chan. Since quitting caffeine, do you feel less anxious? Are you no longer experiencing as much of a mid-day crash? Are you sleeping more restfully? Noticing these improvements can give you the motivation you need to continue on with your caffeine-ditching journey.

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