Here's What Happened When I Tried Quitting Coffee for a Week

Energy, mood, sleep—things changed for the better or worse.

I'm a woman with a full-time job, romantic relationship, and decent social life—and finding the energy to go to the office and spend quality time with my boyfriend and friends has been no easy feat. Add in a committed gym regimen and a love of binge-watching Netflix; it seems nearly impossible to stay awake without caffeine.

I drink between two and three cups of coffee every day, and honestly, I cannot imagine my life without it. Coffee is ingrained in my morning routine, and it's helped me get through more midday slumps than I can count.

Still, I've been in situations where I've downed too many cups of coffee and turned into a jittery mess. I also suspect my afternoon coffee fix has made it harder for me to fall asleep at night.

It made me wonder: What would happen if I eliminated not just coffee but all caffeine for five days straight? I feared the withdrawal symptoms I'd heard about, like headaches and anxiety, but decided it was worth trying for my overall health.

The rules: I would steer clear of any and all caffeine, including tea, chocolate, and soda, for five days and see how I fared. (Luckily, I'm not a chocoholic, so I wasn't worried about that; coffee is much more ingrained in my daily life than chocolate.) This way, I would reap the true benefits of a no-caffeine lifestyle.

My Experience Quitting Coffee

Here's how I fared without coffee—from day one through day five.

Day One: Cravings

When I arrived at my office on Monday, I already felt out of sorts without my usual morning coffee. Like most offices, the temperature in mine feels sub-zero, so all I wanted was a hot mug of coffee to hold on to and sip leisurely.

Instead, I made myself a cup of chamomile tea, which is naturally caffeine-free. It helped me stop shivering, but I still felt off.

"Eating a piece of fruit can perk you up with its natural sugars," Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a nutrition expert and author of Eating in Color, told me. Thus, I tried eating an apple and drinking a tall glass of water and orange juice to compensate for my lack of coffee.

To my surprise, the fruit worked, and in about 20 minutes, I felt awake enough to concentrate on my work. For the rest of the day, I didn't feel overly tired or experience headaches or other typical caffeine withdrawal side effects. Maybe I wasn't as addicted as I thought I was.

Largeman-Roth said people who drink more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day (the equivalent of five 8-ounce cups of coffee) are more likely to experience withdrawal symptoms like headaches and irritability. Luckily, I didn't drink that much caffeine normally, so I figured I was in the clear.

Day Two: Irritability

Why is everyone walking so slowly? Why is that guy talking so loudly?

That was the extent of my Tuesday morning mindset. Everyone was getting on my nerves, even when it came to the little annoyances I could typically brush off. What made matters worse was that I couldn't boost my mood with a morning caffeine fix.

Since Largeman-Roth mentioned irritability and fatigue as common symptoms of caffeine withdrawal, I knew that what I was experiencing was normal. "Drinking lots of water and getting regular sleep will help, but some people just have to struggle through for a bit," Largeman-Roth noted. I drank a couple of large glasses of water and hoped for the best.

Later in the day, I became lethargic but knew I had to rough it out for a 7:30 p.m. boxing class with friends. Therefore, I booked an hour-long nap in a nap pod.

If there's one thing I love more than coffee, it's naps. Before going caffeine-free, I researched and found a yoga studio near my office with nap "pods." You can pay to nap in a private room with a bed, twinkly lights, and noise-canceling headphones.

I went to the yoga studio for a nap, and it was amazing. I passed out for 40 minutes, and I felt like a new person when I woke up. Afterward, when I headed to my boxing workout with an extra burst of much-needed energy, no caffeine was needed.

Day Three: Exhaustion

I woke up easier than usual on Wednesday and got to work; it was snowing outside, and I didn't have to go into the office. An hour into my work-at-home day, I badly wanted my morning caffeine boost. Still, I pushed through.

One hour later, I woke up. That's right: I fell asleep at my computer. I'm unsure if it was working from my couch, the lack of coffee pulsing through my veins, or a mixture of the two, but I couldn't believe I just conked out like that.

Truth be told, my nap helped me get through the remainder of the day with ease and energy.

Day Four: Sleeping Better

The fourth day, otherwise known as Bagel Thursday in my office, was a tough one. I couldn't drink the free cold brew in the kitchen, so I had chamomile tea.

Somehow, I made it through another day without the extra caffeine burst, but by the time I got home, I was ready to fall asleep. I tucked myself in at 9:30 p.m. and drifted off more easily than I had in a long time.

Day Five: Missing the Coffee Ritual

By Friday, I craved the taste of coffee and realized that more than the energy boost it provided, I missed the ritual of my morning cup. I didn't feel less energetic, more irritable, or have a caffeine withdrawal headache. Instead, I just wanted to sip coffee because it tasted good.

As for chocolate, I did crave a little, probably because I wasn't getting any of that rich flavor that I usually would from my coffee. It was more about the flavor than the caffeine when it came to chocolate.

After tucking myself into bed for the night, I was more than excited for the next day—when my coffee ban was over, and I could bring back caffeine into my routine.

Stages of Caffeine Withdrawal

Symptoms of caffeine withdrawal start sooner than many people might expect. Many people begin to feel more tired within just 12 hours of not drinking any coffee.

According to a 2021 study in Scientific Reports, people generally notice they are going through withdrawal within 27 to 31 hours. Aside from drowsiness, withdrawal symptoms may include headache, sadness, irritability, and trouble concentrating.

Fortunately, these symptoms should improve within a few days.

How To Quit Coffee

Even if you've grown dependent on coffee, quitting without going through withdrawal is possible. Instead of quitting coffee cold turkey, it's best to taper off gradually so your body has time to adjust. Cutting back over a period of about five weeks is a good strategy for many people, according to a 2016 study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

As you taper off coffee, stay hydrated by drinking more water. If cutting back on caffeine has you feeling sleepier than usual, try one or more of the following strategies when you need a burst of energy:

  • Do some light exercise such as walking
  • Expose yourself to bright light
  • Rinse your face with cool water
  • Take a quick nap (preferably no longer than 30 minutes)

If you have questions about quitting coffee, talk to a healthcare provider.

What Quitting Coffee Taught Me

My week with caffeine taught me more about myself. I like a consistent morning routine, and I like it to include a cup or two of coffee.

More importantly, my lack of caffeine showed me how dependent I'd become on it for energy. Rather than making sure I got eight hours of sleep or drank enough water, I was using coffee or tea to boost my energy levels.

As going without caffeine made my nightly sleep routine more solid, the challenge made me rethink my afternoon cup. Instead of heading to the work coffee machine or shelling out $5 for cold brew at 3 p.m., I take a lap around the office and chug a glass of water.

A Quick Review

If you drink coffee regularly, quitting coffee cold turkey can leave you feeling tired and irritable. Withdrawal symptoms should get better within a few days, but they're not a pleasant experience. For many people, withdrawal symptoms can be avoided by tapering off coffee gradually.

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  2. Weibel J, Lin YS, Landolt HP, et al. The impact of daily caffeine intake on nighttime sleep in young adult menSci Rep. 2021;11(1):4668. Published 2021 Feb 25. doi:10.1038/s41598-021-84088-x

  3. National Library of Medicine. Caffeine.

  4. Evatt DP, Juliano LM, Griffiths RR. A brief manualized treatment for problematic caffeine use: A randomized control trialJ Consult Clin Psychol. 2016;84(2):113-121. doi:10.1037/ccp0000064

  5. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Using Caffeine Carefully.

  6. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Napping, an Important Fatigue Countermeasure.

  7. Caldwell JA, Caldwell JL, Thompson LA, Lieberman HR. Fatigue and its management in the workplaceNeurosci Biobehav Rev. 2019;96:272-289. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2018.10.024

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