Cut down caffeine consumption, ease caffeine withdrawal, and get more restful sleep.
We all know the feeling — waking up groggy after not enough sleep or poor-quality sleep, only to be slammed with a full day of obligations. It’s only natural to reach for that cup of coffee as a pick-me-up. In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep in America poll, 43 percent of Americans are “very likely” to consume caffeine to stay alert during the day.
And new research indicates that your caffeine addiction may well be genetic: Scientists recently discovered that people with certain gene variations drank about 40 extra milligrams of coffee a day — the amount in an 8-ounce can of Diet Coke — compared to people with different versions of the genes.
Whether in coffee, tea, soda, or chocolate, caffeine helps improve alertness and can help you feel more awake by increasing adrenaline levels while lowering the chemicals that encourage sleep. Unfortunately, your daytime jolt of joe might actually be sabotaging your attempts to get a good night’s sleep.
Caffeine as a Stimulant
While caffeine can give you a jolt almost immediately, it stays in the body for hours. In fact, it takes six hours for just half of the caffeine ingested to make its way out of the body. This essentially makes any caffeine-filled beverage or food enjoyed after noon a potential culprit in sleep problems.
Anyone getting more than 250 milligrams of caffeine per day (three eight-ounce cups of coffee), which is considered moderate, could be at risk for caffeine-related sleep problems. Symptoms of too much caffeine consumption include insomnia, anxiety, irritability, headaches, nervousness, and rapid heartbeat.
There are two ways to approach reducing your dependence on caffeine. The first is simple: Consume less of it. The second is a more holistic approach. “I concentrate on patients achieving better-quality sleep. Sleeping seven to eight hours is enough for most people to solve their sleep problem and not feel the need to jump-start their day,” says David C. Brodner, MD, medical director of the Center for Sleep, Allergy, and Sinus Wellness in Boynton Beach, Fla.
10 Steps to Ease Caffeine Withdrawal
Here are ways to cut down on your caffeine consumption:
- Know your ingredients. Study the ingredients on foods and drinks and watch out for caffeine. Caffeine is added to many sodas and energy drinks.
- Decrease caffeine consumption gradually. Plan your caffeine withdrawal in stages. “Caffeine is addictive. If you throw out one-third of your morning coffee today, wait three days and then throw out another bit so you are drinking half, you are off to a great start,” says Susan Roberts, PhD, professor of nutrition at Tufts University and author of The “I” Diet. “If you want to give it up completely, just keep going in steps.” This reduction will help lessen caffeine withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, irritability, jitteriness, and nausea.
- Water down drinks that contain caffeine. They will still have the taste you enjoy, but contain a lower amount of caffeine and carry less risk of caffeine withdrawal symptoms.
- Try something new. Consider changing from coffee in the morning to tea. “Herbal teas are fine, but green tea is really healthy,” says Roberts.
- Try decaf. Switch to decaf coffee, decaffeinated soda, or even better, water or fruit juices.
- Don’t add to a caffeine habit. Ask yourself if you really need that extra cup in the late morning. If the answer is no, then skip it.
- Try a tea shortcut. Brew tea for a shorter amount of time to reduce the amount of caffeine in it.
- Instead of a large cup of coffee, next time order a small. “Starbucks medium and large both contain two shots of espresso, while a small has only one,” says Dr. Brodner. “Another caution: Even those sugary milkshake drinks [like frappucinos] contain caffeine.” Ask to have yours made with decaf.
- Mix it up. Alternate one cup of coffee with one cup of herbal tea, or one can of soda with one can of caffeine-free soda or water.
- Check your pain reliever. Many over-the-counter medications, especially headache remedies and menstrual pain relievers, contain caffeine. If yours does, change to a different kind.
Between cutting back on caffeine consumption and getting a better night’s sleep, it is certainly possible to not only survive, but to thrive without a daily caffeine fix.
By Kristen Stewart – Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH