Reducing Your Caffeine Addiction For Better Health

SUMMARY POINTS

> Coffee artificially stimulates our brains to keep us alert
> Caffeine is a drug that often leads to dependency
> Wean yourself off of coffee slowly to eliminate dependency
> More sleep and exercise lead to consistent energy all day without caffeine 

Remember that first time coffee ever touched your lips?

You were a kid, maybe on the shy side of ten.

You look at yourself in the mirror in your room and you think to yourself, you’re almost an adult. You are nearing double digits, today is the day.

Today, you will ask your parents for a cup of coffee and be a “grown-up”.

You sit down at the breakfast table, as your mom goes to the fridge for your orange juice you look up and say to her, “Mom, can I have coffee today instead of juice?”

Your mom looks at you and wonders to herself, “Where is this coming from?” She then glances over at your dad, drinking his coffee, and all you hear your dad say is “yeah, let her try it.”

As your mom pours you a cup, black, you get so excited, blowing on it to cool it down.

Finally, you’re ready for your first taste of what has been nothing but a secret treasure kept for only those old enough to experience its magic.

You close your eyes, take a big deep breath in and take your first sip.

And immediately spit it back into the cup as your parents sit there laughing at you.

YUCK.

What in the world is this disgusting liquid?

You spend the next five years of your life thinking your parents and all other adults are crazy, until one fateful day mid-puberty, you realize you need energy.

And this black substance is the only legal thing you can take at school.

So you try again.

This time with a mountain of sugar and half a gallon of milk. It’s more like drinking sugared milk with a bit of coffee. It's not too bad now.

All of a sudden we’re five more years in the future and you’ve been drinking these 500 calorie coffees twice a day consistently and you are starting to realize two things.

1) You’re gaining weight
2) You’re not getting that original coffee high

So what do you do?

Drop the sugar and milk content to a lower level and add more coffee. This is when the real addiction begins.

During college, coffee was your loyal study-buddy when pulling all-nighters.

When you officially became a real grown-up, it became part of your morning commute to work and a mandatory beverage to carry you through the day.

Add in marriage and kids and the coffee became your constant companion, always within arm’s reach.

And it just keeps going. Something gets added to your life, just add a cup of coffee. And, before you know it, you’re at 5+ cups of coffee a day.

Like a bad lover, you just keep going back because you know that they’ve been good to you in the past. And maybe this time, it’ll be different.

However, you’re finding these days you’re still drained. No matter how many more cups you add.

But if you go without it, you’re either a zombie or a fire-breathing monster.

You need it to survive.
You don’t want to be without it.
You would kill for it.

Okay, maybe not kill, but you do find that you are addicted. And most of us are right there with you.

What we’re getting at is that we don’t want to eliminate coffee. After all, it is our treasured morning “go” fuel.

We just need to control our coffee intake to a more normal and reasonable level - not the crazy addicted kind. We want to drink it on our terms and not the other way around. 

How Coffee Stimulates The Brain & Its Side Effects

Coffee is the drug of choice for most adults, in fact, it is considered to be the most widely used drug in the world according to the Journal of Caffeine Research.

It's right there with you when you have to get up early, stay up late, concentrate midday, and through anything life may throw at you.

So, what is it about coffee that makes us so easily hand over our cash?

Caffeine Is A Super Drug

Caffeine is a stimulant that occurs naturally in certain plants, which can enhance alertness and cognitive function. It can even help you slim that waistline.

You can find caffeine in coffee beans, tea leaves, cacao beans, yerba mate leaves, guarana seeds and kola nuts.

Fun fact: as amazing as caffeine is for us, plants actually contain caffeine so they can kill insects that are trying to feed on them.

One man's poison is another man's pleasure.

Don’t worry, you’re not getting poisoned, not really. It just tweaks your brain chemistry.

Here’s the scientific mumbo-jumbo.

What caffeine actually does is block adenosine (triggers tiredness) from binding to receptors in your brain and promotes the release of noradrenaline, dopamine and serotonin, which in turn stimulate the central nervous system.

In plain English, it cuts off the sleepy time signals and amps up the wakey wakey and feel-good sensations.

And when your brain’s receptors don’t get this caffeine kick, you experience withdrawal symptoms - remember, it’s a drug.

Withdrawal symptoms can range from headaches, drowsiness, fatigue, irritability, inability to focus, etc. Basically, you become like that crack-addict that hasn’t had a hit in the last hour.

But for $2-$3 at your corner cafe or the stale coffee in the break room, you can get back those feel-good sensations that your brain’s receptors are desperately screaming for.

In just a few gulps, you’ll wake up, feel great and everything’s back to normal.

No wonder it's so addictive. And unlike cocaine, it’s legal, cheap and won’t have you chewing your face off in the middle of a meeting.

Oh and for the most part, if you don't have it too late at night, you can even go to sleep.

However, it’s still a drug and very addictive one at that. But, nobody ever tells it that way, except for the folks over at Cracked.

VIDEO: If Coffee Commercials Were Honest - Honest Ads (Starbucks, Coffee Bean, Folgers Parody)
YOUTUBE: Cracked
LENGTH: 04:49

Summary points:
> Caffeine is an unregulated psychoactive drug
> Fair trade, organic, single origin just means more money
> A $10 cup of coffee isn’t too far off for all of us 

Caffeine-Use Disorder

In the US alone, 90% of adults consume coffee regularly. And on average, their consumption of caffeine is more than 200 mg per day.

To lay that out more simply, you would need to drink five cans of soda to get this much caffeine. Luckily, you don’t get laughed at for drinking one 12 oz of coffee, as you probably would for drinking five cans of soda at work.

While a little coffee isn’t going to hurt you, overdoing it can cause a plethora of negative side effects. 

Side Effects & Issues

Now, this is much like Googling your symptoms when you have a cold and coming to the conclusion you have a brain tumor.

While all these things are possibilities and there is research behind them, it doesn’t mean each and every single one will happen.

Just keep in mind, overdoing anything is never a good thing. 

1) Depression 

When we partake in anything that boosts our energy, it usually boosts our endorphins as well as making us happy little hummingbirds.

However, when that comes to an end, it can leave us feeling empty. If you are already diagnosed with depression be careful on your intake of caffeine. 

2) Anxiety

Sadly, anxiety and caffeine don’t really get along. If you’re naturally an anxious person or have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, keep in mind that caffeine will enhance your feelings of anxiousness. 

3) Pregnancy And Fertility

If you are pregnant or looking to get pregnant most doctors tell you that one cup is okay, even though many will tell you to quit it altogether.

If you drink more than 300 mg a day, the equivalent of 3 cups, you risk the following:
- Miscarriage 
- Delayed growth of the fetus 
- Arrhythmia in the fetus and yourself 
- Reduced fallopian tube activity 
- Chance of passing caffeine to the baby 

4) Headaches

This can go either way for people. Sometimes a cup of coffee is all you need to cure a headache because it actually helps narrow and restricts the blood vessels, which are enlarged during headaches.

However, too much coffee or too little, if you’re used to having lots, can trigger a headache, and won’t help fix it. 

5) Insomnia

You may find you have trouble sleeping if you are drinking coffee late into the afternoon and evening. Along with keeping you restless, caffeine can cause some interesting and intense dreams, causing you to have less restful nights of sleep.

Over long periods of time, this can lead to restless leg syndrome and even insomnia.

So with all these possibilities, cutting down to one or two cups a day is a good idea for most all of us.

Why It’s Good To Reduce Your Dependency On Regular Coffee

The definition of dependency is relying on something else for aid and support, sometimes in extreme cases, survival.

This means that without caffeine, the ability to take on and finish tasks or get through the day may seem like a fantasy. So why would you want to reduce it?

Because coffee actually increases your cortisol and your heart rate, instead of being healthily energized, you’re actually more stressed, more alert and synthetically awake.

Remember, coffee and caffeine don’t give you more energy. All it does is block the tiredness and fatigue signals from reaching your brain. And when these signals wear off, that’s when the crash happens.

So what do we do?

We grab yet another cup of java and repeat the process all over again. This leads to peaks and valleys in your energy all day long. This is when the 5+ cups of coffee become a daily reality.

Chaz Hutton, our fav Post-It note artist, diagrams this out so eloquently.

(Credit: Chaz Hutton)

This roller coaster ride of energy levels doesn’t do us any favors for our overall work productivity. It simply messes with our bodies natural state of alertness.

When we’re amp’ed up, we turn into borderline frenetic ADD multi-taskers that jump from one uncompleted task to another. When the more ideal thing to do is concentrate and perform real deep focused work.

When the buzz wears off and we hit rock bottom, we struggle with the simplest of things like copy-pasting data, reading and understanding a sentence, composing an email. We just turn into a non-working blob of a human, staring blankly at the monitor.

The bottom line is that coffee doesn’t fix what is at the root of the problem, it just masks it. And that’s why it’s so important to lessen that dependency until you no longer have it.

Imagine a world where your energy levels are a smooth and straight path, rather than the ups-n-downs from artificial jolts of caffeine.

How To Reduce Your Caffeine Intake

Unlike most drugs, caffeine actually has a comparatively small withdrawal time. Usually, within a week you will find all major symptoms disappearing.

However, those seven days can be absolutely excruciating, especially if you’re a heavy coffee drinker. And sometimes, it can extend beyond that.

Either way, it’s a long time when you experience headaches, irritability, difficulty concentrating, flu-like symptoms and the worst…fatigue.

So, we don’t recommend going cold-turkey and just dropping coffee altogether. You’ll just be torturing yourself unnecessarily. The best way to do this is to slowly wean yourself off of regular coffee and gradually integrate decaf coffee and other non-coffee alternatives. 

Try Drinking Decaf - It’s Pretty Damn Good These Days! 

Now, you’re probably thinking that drinking decaf will taste like shit. But honestly, decaf coffee has come a long way from the old school “Sanka” brand decaf from the 70’s and 80’s.

Fun fact: The Sanka name is derived from the French words sans caféine ("without caffeine").

Back in those days, Sanka and it’s other decaf competitors tasted like ass swill. You could really taste the difference and it wasn’t good - at all.

Let’s just say it was an “acquired taste” and one that stayed with Baby Boomers and didn’t trickle down to the rest of us.

Today, with modern decaffeinating processes, most people would be hard pressed to really tell the difference between the two. And, if you blend it with regular, it’d be pretty much indistinguishable.

The folks over at BuzzFeed have proven this quite well with their little informal taste test with die-hard coffee drinkers.

VIDEO: Coffee Addicts Try To Guess Regular Vs. Decaf Coffee
YOUTUBE: BuzzFeedVideo
LENGTH: 3:24

Summary points:
> Decaf isn’t as obvious as you think
> Decaf gets you all the taste without the caffeine
> Don’t let your mom sneak coffee into your hot chocolate

And here’s another little something - since you really can’t taste the difference, you can fool your brain into thinking it’s the real deal. It’s called the placebo effect.

This is where you trick your brain into thinking it’s getting “treatment” when it’s really not.

So now, let’s explore how you can blend in decaf and other non-coffee options.

Option #1: Slowly Mix In Or Alternate With Decaf Coffee Over One Month

To most die-hard coffee drinkers, just the thought of decaf coffee is enough to put them into withdrawal shivers. Most would reply, “What’s the point?” To them, there’s no valid reason why anyone would drink decaf coffee.

But hear us out on this - it does make sense when you want to wean yourself off of caffeine but still want to enjoy that awesome coffee flavor.

Here’s the plan we followed that worked really well in avoiding nasty withdrawal symptoms:

Week 1: Drink 75% regular with 25% decaf
Week 2: Drink 50% regular with 50% decaf
Week 3: Drink 25% regular with 75% decaf
Week 4: Drink 100% decaf most of the time

At work, we’d just make one pot of decaf along with regular. Then, just pour a bit from each into your cup to make your desired blend.

If you’re getting your morning joe at Charbucks or wherever, just ask for “half-caf” and they’ll know what to do.

If you can’t be bothered with blending in decaf, then just alternate regular and decaf coffee throughout your day. And with each passing week, substitute one more cup of decaf for regular.

1st cup of the day = decaf
2nd cup mid-morning = regular
3rd cup after lunch = decaf
4th cup afternoon = regular
5th cup late afternoon = decaf

It may seem difficult, but don’t have your first cup of caffeine right as you wake up. Instead, make your first cup of coffee decaffeinated and your first cup of regular coffee sometime in the mid-morning at work.

The reason for this is when we wake up, our bodies have higher levels of cortisol that lasts an hour or two then falls off. Having regular coffee first thing in the morning over-boosts our cortisol levels.

And, when the cortisol and caffeine wear off at the same time, we start draggin’ ass even harder and go for another regular cup of coffee to compensate.

It’s also the reason why so many of us build a high tolerance for caffeine in the early mornings.

So, if you switch it up and start with decaf while your cortisol levels are naturally higher in the early mornings and switch to regular coffee when the cortisol levels drop off, you’ll be smoothing out the dips in your day.

Option #2: Alternate Coffee and Tea or Make “Cofftea”

Just as with the decaf schedule, you can alternate your coffee with teas.

If you’re looking to switch up your routine, try a black, oolong, or green tea when you first start alternating as they have a low-level of caffeine, and then gradually switch it out with herbal teas.

Try the following schedule:

1st cup of the day = decaf coffee
2nd cup mid-morning = tea
3rd cup after lunch = coffee (regular or decaf)
4th cup afternoon = tea
5th cup late afternoon = decaf coffee

And if you’re up for a unique flavor twist, combine your tea and coffee. It’s called “cofftea” and if you haven’t heard of it, you’re missing out.

In China, this concoction is known as yuanyang, which is an expression that translates to “happy couple.”

Do you love a good vanilla or hazelnut latte?

Well, how would you feel if we can give you a lower caffeine alternative that is just as delicious?

Welcome to the cofftea secret you’ve been missing out on.

Mixing half a cup of coffee with half a cup of tea of your choice is a great way to fulfill those caffeine cravings while slowly reducing dependency on it.

Plus, you get a little more variety.

And since tea has less caffeine than coffee, it can help to ease the weaning process. 

Alternatives To Coffee During & After The Weaning Phase

There are going to be moments during or after your weaning period where you want to drink something caffeinated to boost your energy.

There are hundreds of alternatives to coffee out there, sadly, that doesn’t mean they are going to taste just as good or make you feel as happy on the inside.

However, don’t worry, there is always something out there for someone.

1) Teas 

Tea is the best way to switch out coffee for a lot of java drinkers because most still have a bit of caffeine to give you that wake-up boost, but they aren’t as strong.

In fact, one cup of green tea has about 40 mg of caffeine, whereas a cup of coffee has 200 mg. So, drinking ten cups of tea won't hurt you. You’ll just have to pee a lot.

Let's take a look at some tea options:

Black Tea

Black tea variants are the most common types of teas available. They usually brew up to strong flavors and because of that, these can be an ideal coffee to tea transition. On average there is 40 mg to 70 mg of caffeine per cup of black tea.

Green Tea

With its origins in China, green tea is loaded with antioxidants and is considered by many to be one of the healthiest drinks around. Green tea is even less than black tea, falling in the range of 35 mg to 45 mg per cup.

Usually, green tea is the go-to for reducing your caffeine intake as it is a much gentler stimulant. 

Oolong Tea

Oolong teas play in the middle of black and green teas in terms of taste profile and flavor strength. And, their caffeine levels lie between dark and green teas at around 55 mg.

If you aren’t a green tea fan, you can try oolong as it’s not as bitter and has a slightly smoother taste. 

White Tea

White tea is the most minimally processed tea of all varieties and has a very subtle, mellow, sweet flavor. It’s also very low on the caffeine scale, having only 15 mg to 30 mg of caffeine per cup.

Herbal Tea

These are amazing if you’re looking for a non-caffeinated option. You can drink these to your heart's content without having to worry.

Flavors such as chamomile, peppermint, ginger, lavender and more. You’re bound to find something you can fall in love with.

2) Water 

The essence of life. Drinking water, believe it or not, can actually help you wake up. And help your body replenish and recover in tons of ways.

Start your day with a nice cold glass of water with a bit of lemon squeezed into it. This will get you and your organs moving and ready for the day.

During the day, flavor up your boring water by adding a bit of sliced fruit like strawberries, lemons, oranges, or cucumber for a nice refreshing taste.

Or to fancy it up even more, substitute regular water with carbonated mineral water for your very own low-calorie all-natural fruit infused spritzer. 

3) Natural Coconut Water

Try natural coconut water that has no added sugar to it as that defeats the purpose of this amazing healthy drink.

Not only is there no caffeine in coconut water, but you also get an added boost of potassium, calcium, magnesium, antioxidants, and amino acids. It’s Mother Nature’s super nutrient drink.

4) Cocoa

For all you chocolate lovers out there, this is the best trick in the book. Buy some all-natural cocoa powder. The only ingredient should be cocoa.

Take a tablespoon of cocoa and mix it with some milk and honey, and voila you have a low calorie, coffee alternative that tastes amazing.

One tablespoon of cocoa only has about 25 mg of caffeine and it only has about 20 calories. Win-win.

Stay Away From Trendy Energy Drinks

As tempting as it may be to replace your morning coffee with an energy drink, this will be more harmful in the long run.

These trendy energy drinks are loaded with caffeine and sugar plus other questionable “vitamins and nutrients” to sucker you into thinking it’s healthy. However, there are studies that show how these energy drinks have serious health impacts.

Monster contains 10 mg of caffeine per 29 ml. Considering one can is 500 ml, you’re looking at 175 mg of caffeine. And one of those 5-hour energy shots has 200 milligrams per serving.

While that may give you that pick you up you’ve been craving, the crash will be even worse, and your body-n-brain will not be happy with you.

This is mainly due to the fact that caffeine is not the only thing in an energy drink. Often times you find extremely high amounts of sugar.

In fact, one Rockstar has 63 grams of sugar. That’s the same as two regular size Snickers candy bars or over 15 teaspoons of granulated sugar. Imagine just eating 15 teaspoons of raw sugar in one sitting - ugh, gross and disgusting.

Due to the higher sugar content, the chance of addiction increases and the withdrawal symptoms can be much, much worse. Sugar is another one of those things that we all need to cut back on - that’s a discussion for another day.

The bottom line - stay away from energy drinks.

Activities To Help Boost Alertness At Work

As you go through the weaning process, you’ll find that during your first week, your energy levels will be lower and you’ll be bogging down more than usual.

This is completely normal.

The risk is that you may give in and go get a cup of joe, but resist that urge and instead, try a few of these awesome little alert boosters to help keep your ears perked up and eyes wide open. 

1) Get Outside & Go For A Walk

We can’t say it enough, fresh air will do you wonders. If you can pop outside every couple hours and just take a fast 5-minute walk and get some fresh air, you’re going to feel a thousand times better.

And if you can’t get outside, just get up and walk around the office or climb the stairs. Any sort of movement to get your heart pumping and the blood flowing is a great way to wake up the senses. 

2) Take A Quick Snooze In The Car 

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a room filled with nap pods like Amazon and Google?

Just cuddle in with your teddy and a nice snuggly blankie and wake up in 20 minutes feeling like a whole new person. Ready to take on any meeting, any client and any deadline.

Since most nearly all of us don’t have napping pods at work, there’s a good substitute that most of us use every day - our cars.

It’s a fully enclosed environment with climate control, music, and reclining seats. All you need is a front windshield sunshade and/or eyemask and you’re set.

So, when you find yourself getting extremely tired and desperately needing a nap, try the following one-hour lunchtime napping schedule:

11:30 am - 12:00 pm: Eat your lunch while working at your desk
12:00 pm - 12:45 pm: Head to your car and take a nap
12:45 pm - 1:00 pm: Shake off the nap grogginess and head back to your desk

If you don’t commute to work by car, there are other options too. Just hop on over to this article for more ideas on napping spots at work.

Just go wherever you feel most comfortable to shut your eyes for a few. 

3) Rock Out To Your Favorite Tunes

We all have those songs in our playlist that makes us just want to get up and dance. Perhaps you’re rocking out to some Midnight Oil, Chubby Checker, or Pink.

If you don’t have a rockin’ playlist on your phone, open your favorite streaming music app and tune into the “decades channel” you grew up in as a teenager.

There’s nothing like re-living our youthful, carefree teen years through music. The nostalgia will bring back a lot of memories.

No matter what your preference is, any tunes that you can jam to at work is a good way to brighten up the dim bulb in your head. 

Addressing Core Issue Of Tiredness

When it comes down to it, coffee is masking one major problem. We’re tired. And, the best and more permanent solution is to sort out the root causes of being so tired.

The reason we consume so much caffeine is that we are lacking one of two major things in our lives.

1) Sleep
2) Exercise

Try to incorporate more of these into your day and you may find yourself skipping that cup of java without even thinking of it.

And when your body is less dependent on caffeine and has gotten enough rest, you can have a nice steady energy level throughout the day without artificial energy boosts and crashes.

Get More Sleep

One of the biggest problems that prevent us from getting the 7-8 hours of sleep we need is all the distractions that surround us at home.

One more episode of NetFlix, another hour of TV, scrolling through social news feeds, a few more YouTube video clips in bed, etc. They’re all keeping us from getting the shut-eye we need.

And, when we finally do get in bed, all of sudden our minds start to race around on other thoughts. Now, we can’t fall asleep because we’re stressing about other stuff.

This double-whammy really kills our sleep hours.

Here’s our simple solution to this:
- Get to bed earlier by cutting back on media and eliminating bullshit activities
- Set an evening routine to clear your mind and get your body ready to sleep
- Stop using your phone in bed and put it on airplane mode

When you get to bed earlier with a pre-set routine to transition your mind and body for sleep, you can get more quality sleep at night.

Daily Moderate Exercise 

Don’t worry, we’re not going to make you get up at 4am and run marathons.

We’re talking simple stuff that you can easily do at work. It’s not crazy workouts either, just moderate exercise to work up a little sweat and get your heart rate up - that’s it.

And when we mean moderate exercise, it’s like taking a fast walk like your late to a meeting.

According to this study from the University of Pittsburgh, written by Christopher E. Kline, Ph.D., he states “exercise has long been associated with better sleep, and evidence is accumulating on the efficacy of exercise as a nonpharmacologic treatment option for disturbed sleep.”

The article goes on to state that approximately one-third of all adults have disrupted sleep. Luckily, exercise is great therapy for this.

The recommended daily amount of moderate exercise that the US Dept. of Health recommends is 30 minutes.

By exerting extra energy in this short period of time, it ensures that you’re not left with anything pent up around bedtime.

And the best part is you can easily fit a 30 minute exercise session into your workday.

Option #1: Exercise During Lunch

- Take a 30 minute fast walk during your lunch break
- After walking, cool down with a healthy lunch

Option #2: Stress Relief Walking Breaks

- Take a 15 minute fast walk mid-morning
- Take a 15 minute fast walk mid-afternoon

For more ideas, check out this article on exercising at work. It can be easily integrated into your day without much disruption or sweating.

Less Caffeine + More Sleep = More Energy

With the combination of new fav drinks, getting your body in motion and finding that deep restful sleep you’ve been yearning for, you’ll be ready to set coffee to casual mode, rather than a needy significant other.

No more late night booty-calls to get through evening projects or mid-day quickies to get you through the afternoon's meeting.

No more crawling back, hoping this time will be different.

You’re in charge now and you’ve got this.

You’ll be able to kick your addiction to the curb and blissfully enjoy a cup of coffee without that craving or needing it. You can enjoy it the way it's meant to be enjoyed.

It's like the first time you had a cup of coffee, but better. Way better. Scratch that, it's not like the first time.

It will taste good, give you comfort, make you smile, and that’s all.

No crazy heart palpitations or cravings for the next cup. Just pure coffee happiness on your terms without the addiction.

Feel Better,
[Cubicle|Therapy]