In this article, we talk about what happened during our caffeine withdrawal experiment, hour by hour.
Our goal is to help you decide if you have a caffeine problem, and if so, how quit coffee (or at least kick caffeine dependence).
We were shocked by the caffeine withdrawal symptoms we experienced and our sleep data measured for 30 days after we quit.
If you’re like us (and clearly we have drinking coffee in common) you’ll be happy to hear that moderate coffee consumption is great for health and happiness.
our caffeine withdrawal timeline and story
As residents of Colombia, we love our morning coffee ritual. Home-brewing the world’s finest beans brings us joy every morning.
For this reason, we were uneasy about conducting a caffeine withdrawal experiment. Honestly, other than the occasional caffeine headaches, we had no reason to give it up.
But, since our job is to self-experiment to optimize our health and happiness, we quit coffee cold turkey. Plus, recent experiments with 3-day water fasting and two weeks of posture improvement were wildly eye-opening.
Will quitting coffee would be just as successful?
Where Our Caffeine Withdrawal Story Begins
Over the holidays, Alex and I went on a three-day backpacking trip in the mountains. Each morning, we were subjected to the instant coffee sludge I had packed instead of our usual French-pressed, medium-roast Colombian coffee.
Sure, we have access to incredible coffee here in Colombia, but we also genuinely love the taste of coffee, even if it’s not top-notch. Coffee ice-cream, coffee with milk, coffee anything, sign us up. But this instant coffee muck… not so much.
The little Nescafe pouch’s sole purpose was to provide a morning caffeine fix.
Unfortunately, we still had an aching head each afternoon. It turns out, the instant coffee had half the caffeine compared to our usual cup.
So, here we were, on trails miles away from civilization, going through our carefully rationed packets with intense caffeine withdrawal.
Our Thoughts On Moderation
I didn’t like this feeling of addiction at all. It was a wake-up call and one that was ruining the trip.
Typically, we’re very careful about moderation and the proper balance of everything regarding our health.
We take this so seriously that we quit our corporate engineering jobs in 2018 to step away from stress and focus on our health and happiness.
Since 2018, I thought we had been drinking coffee in moderation. Plus, drinking coffee isn’t bad. It’s not like drinking soda, which literally has zero health benefits and a long list of risks.
It’s more like drinking red wine. Sure, if you have too much alcohol, you’ll gain weight and ruin your sleep. However, drinking socially in moderation can improve your stress levels and happiness.
We figured that we needed to strike a better balance with coffee, and we hoped our caffeine withdrawal experiment would help us do that.
I Am NOT A Coffee Addict
At least this is what I was telling myself while hiking through Colombia’s pristine páramo trying to forget about my headache. But really, I’m not, and I know from experience.
Before quitting, I was a daily coffee drinker for 13 years, while Alex had been drinking coffee daily for three years. On a typical day, we only drank 1-2 cups of coffee. So, neither of us are considered coffee addicts.
Coffee is the second most popular beverage after water in the United States. The average coffee drinker consumes three 9 oz. cups a day, equivalent to 300 mg of caffeine.
So, look! We were below average! Could we still be dependent?
Plus, it’s not like we needed the caffeine. With a flexible work-from-home schedule, I woke up whenever I wanted and napped anytime I wanted.
We drank coffee because we enjoyed the morning ritual and the taste.
Apparently, even this leisurely cup or two a day was enough to make us dependent on caffeine.
So while I’m no “coffee addict,” my withdrawal symptoms (mainly the horrible caffeine withdrawal headache) indicated otherwise.
But I Used To Be A Major Addict
I used to have a serious coffee addiction.
When I moved from my engineering position into a sales role in Texas, I often drove 1,500 miles a week going to accounts. Covering this kind of ground meant a lot of late nights and early mornings.
My Ford Fusion needed 91 octane gasoline to keep it going and I needed Starbucks americanos to keep it on the road.
Separate from the damage all this coffee was wreaking on my body, to this day, I still feel guilty about the Starbucks tab I hit my company with monthly. In my last month on the job, I spent $205 at Starbucks.
That’s a lot of coffee, and this wasn’t including my daily pre-workout supplement and weekly 5-hour energy (I’d chug one before big meetings).
My point being, I know what it feels like to be a caffeine addict. It’s terrible. You’re just treading water. If you get to Starbucks in time, you’ll stay above water. If not, caffeine withdrawal anxiety and fatigue hits and you’ll sink like a rock.
Alex, on the other hand, has never been a coffee addict. She was always a light tea drinker until we started traveling South America in 2018. Since then we’ve cherished our daily coffee routine together.
Come to think of it, it’s my fault that Alex drinks coffee at all. It’s my fault that she needs this god-awful cup of instant coffee while we enjoy a sunrise above the clouds.
Coffee Experiment Hypothesis
In previous conversations, whenever I heard someone say, “I cannot drink coffee” or “I am just not a coffee person,” I would roll my eyes and wonder where their energy comes from.
Could I be “Not a coffee person?”
If I quit would I have the natural energy of a kid again?
Is there a chance my body would be naturally energized if I wasn’t always feeding it coffee?
Come to think of it, the last time I was coffee/caffeine-free was basically when I was a kid.
Then I thought, would I sleep better if I stopped drinking coffee completely?
That was it. Since understanding sleep is so important to me, I was motivated to quit coffee cold turkey and see how my health improved.
I hypothesized that the answer was yes to all of these questions (and I was wrong).
Common Caffeine Withdrawal Questions
Wean Or Quit Caffeine Cold Turkey?
Wouldn’t it be easier to slowly wean yourself off caffeine? Actually, no, and we’ll tell you why.
No matter what, you’ll get headaches either way. From our research, weaning may make the headaches less intense, but they’ll still be there.
As we share in the below story of our caffeine withdrawal timeline when we cut out coffee cold turkey, Alex experienced intense headaches, but I never did. Mine were dull.
So, why prolong the headaches, especially when there’s a chance that they’re not intense anyways?
Even before knowing this, I decided to go cold turkey for two reasons.
First, I wanted to record the timeline and effects. Second, I wanted to study how quitting coffee affected my sleep. So, to have the most accurate dataset, cold turkey was my only option.
Either way, if you are wondering what is the best way to quit caffeine, my recommendation is to do it all at once. There have been many times in my 13 years of drinking coffee when I scaled back my coffee consumption.
Now that I have experienced quitting cold turkey, I know that was the best, most efficient route for me. That being said, I am no expert on this and your experience will likely be a bit different than ours.
We’re sharing our story to help with caffeine withdrawal. However, If you have any concerns, reach out to a medical professional who can help direct you to a caffeine withdrawal treatment.
Caffeine Withdrawal Duration
If instead, you prefer to wean, the recommendation out there is to drop 10mg of caffeine every three days.
To do this, you’ll likely need to buy caffeine tablets specifically set up for this purpose or start drinking your coffee from a measuring cup.
Weaning this slowly will take you about a month, and you still may experience headaches. Or, go cold turkey like us and be done with it in a few days.
What happens To Your Body During Caffeine Withdrawal?
Before we share our caffeine withdrawal timeline and journal, these are five common symptoms of caffeine withdrawal:
- Headaches or caffeine withdrawal migraines
- Fatigue and dizziness
- Irritability, depression, or increased anxiety
- Difficulty concentrating
- Flu-like symptoms including nausea, muscle pain, and vomiting
The most common caffeine withdrawal symptom is headaches. Most people report that the caffeine withdrawal headache location is the sides of the head or temples.
How Can You Tell If You Have A Caffeine Problem?
Indicators of caffeine dependence can cover a wide range, from general irritability, sleep disturbance, acid reflux, and anxiety.
Since it’s a bit general, ask yourself these questions to see if you have a caffeine problem:
- If I skip my coffee, will I get a headache later that day?
- Am I irritable before my first cup of coffee?
- Can I concentrate without my first cup of coffee?
- Do I need to increase my cups of coffee over time?
- Do you often feel jittery or on edge?
In a nutshell, if you drink one or more cups of coffee a day (100mg of caffeine or more), you’ll develop a caffeine dependence according to studies by Johns Hopkins University.
Is It Bad To Have A Dependence On Coffee?
The truth is, there are lots of health benefits for coffee, but it depends how much you consume.
Generally, 3 cups a day or less is thought to be fine, but just know that 1 cup a day will cement your coffee dependence.
If you drink more than 3 cups a day of coffee (for a total of 300mg or more of caffeine), then consider reducing your intake.
However, if you’re below that, here are some health benefits of coffee:
- Coffee is one of the healthiest drinks on earth. People who eat a Western diet get most of their antioxidants from coffee, more than fruits and vegetables combined.
- Caffeine is a known fat-burner
- Caffeine improves energy and workout performance
- Coffee contains essential nutrients including Vitamin B2, B5, B3, manganese and potassium
- Can lower risk of type 2 diabetes
- Can lower risk of Alzheimer’s or dementia by as much as 65%
The health benefits of coffee are very compelling. Especially when you manually grind and French press specialty coffee beans (they have to be roasted fresh). Our how-to process is in the article below.
Still, Alex and I were interested in quitting to relieve our dependence and see if my sleep quality could improve.
Our Caffeine Withdrawal Timeline
You’re likely wondering, “How long does caffeine withdrawal last?” Studies show that the average person experiences caffeine withdrawal symptoms for 2-9 days.
We tracked our symptoms hourly to see where we would fall on the spectrum. We didn’t consider ourselves heavy coffee drinkers at 100-200mg a day of caffeine (1-2 cups), but I had been drinking coffee daily for 13 years while Alex had been for 3.
Here’s our caffeine withdrawal story and journal.
Hour 0 (Day 1) – Thursday morning
We manually ground the last of our beans, brewed in the French press, and enjoyed our final cup together on the terrace (100 mg at 9 AM).
The timing was right for this experiment. We had no commitments for the next week other than working from home and occasionally walking across the hall to check in on our renovation project.
Hour 24 (Day 2) – Friday morning
Now 24 hours since our last sip of coffee, we both felt fine. No caffeine withdrawal symptoms yet.
Hour 29 (Day 2) – Friday afternoon
By mid-day, I was exhausted and had a dull headache. Alex was still fine.
We were tracking our water consumption with our Nalgene bottles and both of us had already drunk 50% more water than usual. Knowing the withdrawal symptoms for coffee, we were hoping to head them off by keeping well hydrated.
Despite this, my headache kicked in at 2 PM. I had a lot of work to do still, and since I couldn’t kick the headache, I took Ibuprofen and laid down for a short nap.
Three hours later, I woke up from what felt like a coma.
Meanwhile, Alex felt perfectly fine and productive all day. She was far less dependent on caffeine than I was. I had 10 years and 10,000 cups on her (scary, but that’s not even an exaggeration).
Hour 48 (Day 3) – Saturday morning
For the last 3 years, we cherished our daily morning ritual of making coffee and reading on the terrace together.
Now, on a gorgeous Saturday morning, we were at a loss of what to do. So, we quickly decided to replace our coffee ritual with a juice, latte, or smoothie ritual.
I made fresh-squeezed orange juice with our new juicer before reading Harry Potter (in Spanish) while soaking up some vitamin D with my lovely wife.
The morning was a breeze. After a Yoga Balance routine (part of our Couple’s Yoga Program) and breakfast, we departed early for an 11 AM appointment at the Apple Store (God forbid we be 5 minutes late and lose our spot).
Hour 53 (Day 3) – Saturday afternoon
After the appointment, I felt incredibly lethargic. We both noticed that our eyes were dry and our eyelids were heavier than tungsten.
We decided to skip all other errands and go home for a nap. I was head bobbing in the Uber ride home.
I napped for 1.5 hours and felt better upon waking up. Alex napped for 1 hour, which was major because she never naps.
Hour 56 (Day 3) – Saturday early evening
When 4 PM rolled around, I had another classic caffeine headache. Even after taking the last of the Ibuprofen, it lasted through the night.
Today, Alex and I were in pain together. She had a stubborn headache as well. By 6 PM it had escalated to a pounding and debilitating migraine. She began to feel nauseous too. All she could do for the rest of the night was lie down on the couch and watch TV.
At 8 PM, the Tylenol that we had ordered online was delivered and that quickly helped her. We both went to bed feeling rather miserable.
Hour 72 (Day 4) – Sunday morning
On the third day of our caffeine withdrawal experiment, I woke up feeling surprisingly rested and energized. We spent the day working on the kitchen plans for our renovation project.
Hour 79 (Day 4) – Sunday afternoon
I noticed a slight headache at 3 PM, and by 5 PM both Alex and I were on the couch again, sipping mint tea, and watching Modern Family to distract us from our aching heads.
The caffeine withdrawal headaches weren’t as awful as the day before, so neither of us took a Tylenol but we didn’t feel great.
After this Day 4 headache, though, Alex was 100% cured. But I wasn’t out of the woods yet.
Hour 96 (Day 5) – Monday morning
On Sunday, we both woke up feeling alive. We started the day with freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice with rosemary and then went to the farmer’s market.
After cleaning our fruits and vegetables, we did 1.5 hours of yoga together. We both felt great all day.
Hour 112 (Day 5) – Middle of Monday night
Then, I woke up in the middle of the night with a pounding headache and flared up back pain. I got out of bed, drank some water, popped a Tylenol, and stretched to alleviate the back pain.
My head was pounding and I couldn’t sleep, so I read a book for 50 minutes before struggling to fall back to sleep again. That night, I scored a 58 sleep quality score. Usually, I am a 75-85.
It wasn’t quite the caffeine withdrawal insomnia that some experience, but it was my worst symptom yet.
Hour 120 (Day 6) – Tuesday morning
After a terrible night’s sleep, I was feeling rather lousy. By lunchtime, my eyes were feeling dry and tired again.
Hour 127 (Day 6) – Tuesday afternoon
Despite being properly hydrated, another headache kicked in around 2:30 PM. So, while Alex was hard at work in the home office I was taking a 1.5-hour afternoon nap.
Hour 144 (Day 7) – Wednesday morning
By now, Alex had been feeling chipper for days. I still felt fatigued all morning.
Hour 150 (Day 7) – Wednesday afternoon
I had dry eyes in the afternoon and there was no time for a nap. I had another dull headache that lasted all night.
Hour 168 (Day 8) – Thursday morning
Today marked our 1-week anniversary of quitting coffee. It also marked my first day without a headache.
In summary, Alex ended all of her caffeine withdrawal symptoms on Day 4. Her headaches were more acute than mine, and she was also nauseous. My withdrawal symptoms lasted 7 days.
What Surprised Us about Caffeine Withdrawal
“Rock-bottom” means the end is near
For Alex, she hit rock-bottom on the evening of Day 3 with an acute headache and nausea. One day later, she finished her caffeine withdrawal timeline.
My rock-bottom took place in the middle of the night (early morning of Day 6). Within 24 hours, I had also finished my caffeine withdrawal timeline.
So, while it sucks to hit rock-bottom, we found that within one day later, your body will be 100% and finished with its caffeine addiction.
I still pooped
I didn’t have any issues with bowel movements. So many people (myself included) think that they need that morning cup to wake up their digestive system, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Drugs are very helpful
Both Alex and I hardly ever take pain relievers. So, when we do, they usually work quickly. With our caffeine headaches during withdrawal, the drugs helped a lot.
Our eyes were opened
As expected, experiencing caffeine withdrawal was enlightening.
As two people who care deeply about our health (it’s literally our day job), we were shocked at the severity of our caffeine withdrawal symptoms.
We knew that we never wanted to be dependent on caffeine again.
30 Days Later – Was it worth it?
Now that we had quit caffeine cold turkey, we were feeling proud. It quickly became evident that we didn’t need to drink coffee or have any caffeine. I could be “Not a coffee person.”
But, to be honest, we both miss it. We love coffee. After all, we live in Colombia’s coffee region, home to the world’s finest beans. There was only one thing that was going to keep me from coffee.
That one thing: better sleep.
If I could measure an improvement in sleep during the 30 days after quitting compared to the 30 days before, I would have my motivation to live a caffeine-free life.
Well, the data is in. And, the results are surprising but conclusive in my opinion.
Caffeine Withdrawal Sleep Study
The following graphical results show my sleep data averages of the 30 nights before, 7 nights during, and the 30 nights after the caffeine withdrawal timeline experiment.
The results surprised me because I really expected my sleep to noticeably improve.
As shown in the graph above, there was no significant change in my sleep quality and time awake at night.
Since this is a difficult experiment to control, I am considering anything less than a 10% change negligible or insignificant.
In the below graph, there are more significant results, but mostly just in the “during” numbers not the “after” results.
I didn’t need any data to remind me that I slept terribly during my 7-day caffeine withdrawal timeline. Sleep duration and time in deep sleep took a big hit.
However, the only semi-significant improvement after quitting coffee was a 10% increase in deep sleep minutes.
How We Feel After 30 Days
It’s been 30 days since quitting coffee cold turkey. We don’t feel more or less energized than before. Maybe it’s too early to tell, but my body has not started producing more of that magic natural energy chemical.
The headaches are gone. Before quitting, if I didn’t consume adequate caffeine by about 1 PM, I would get a headache.
I really miss coffee. We still have our morning juice or smoothie ritual, but it’s just not the same. Morning coffee with my wife was my happy place.
The sleep data shows a negligible sleep improvement. Meaning, with or without coffee, I sleep about the same.
During the 30 days before quitting coffee, my average sleep score was 75.1 (per my premium subscription to the Pillow App). During the 7-day caffeine withdrawal timeline, my average sleep score was 73. My 30-day average sleep score after quitting was 74.8.
Of course, there are tons of uncontrollable variables in this experiment and sleep is incredibly complex. Still, I was hoping to see more of a difference here.
While I’d love to go back to drinking a few cups of coffee a week (below the cup-a-day dependence threshold level), I’ll continue the experiment for another two months to get a more long-term understanding of my sleep.
Until then, if you have a caffeine withdrawal story or information to share, please help our readers by leaving a comment below.
Caffeine Withdrawal FAQs
How long does it take to get over caffeine withdrawal?
The symptoms of caffeine withdrawal are miserable. Before our experiment (and especially during), I was wondering the following.
How long will I have headaches after quitting caffeine?
How long will I be tired after quitting coffee?
From our experience and research, weaning off caffeine will take you about a month, maybe more. If you quit cold turkey like us you should get over it between 2-9 days.
During both transition periods, it’s likely that you’ll experience headaches and fatigue.
What does caffeine withdrawal feel like?
The common symptoms of caffeine withdrawal include:
- Headaches or migraines
- Fatigue and dizziness
- Bad mood or increased anxiety
- Difficulty concentrating
- Flu-like symptoms including nausea, muscle pain, and vomiting
We especially felt the headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and nausea.
What helps with caffeine withdrawals?
The common symptoms of caffeine withdrawal include:
During the caffeine withdrawal experiment, several things made life easier and more enjoyable. So, how did we deal with it?
1. Tons of water. Drink more water than you usually do. Take your body weight in pounds, multiply by 0.75, and drink that many ounces per day.
2. Lots of naps. Try to quit caffeine when your schedule is flexible and not busy to allow this. You won’t be your normal self. When you’re tired, don’t fight.
3. Exercise or get moving. If you don’t feel up for a workout, do something lighter like yoga or walking.
4. Substitute. If coffee is a ritual for you, replace it with a caffeine-free tea, smoothie, or apple so your routine isn’t thrown off
5. Drugs. You’ll want to have Ibuprofen or Tylenol ready for headaches.
That’s what was useful for us, but please, if you have tips, please share them with readers in the comments section of this post.
What can I drink instead of coffee?
During our caffeine withdrawal experiment, we chose to quit caffeine cold turkey. Therefore, we only drank water, caffeine-free tea (mint and chamomile), and natural fruit juices.
Those are our recommendations if you’re quitting cold turkey. However, if you plan to wean yourself off coffee and start drinking alternatives with less caffeine, here’s our list of favorites.
1. Yerba mate. We became obsessed with yerba mate when we lived in Argentina. You’ll need to buy the following two items (they’re hard to find in stores so Amazon is easiest).
Many argue that it’s far healthier than coffee. We agree and the energy boost is equivalent to coffee. However, it is an acquired taste.
2. Black tea. This is another go-to drink to replace coffee. It contains a fraction of the caffeine. Any brand tastes great and you can add milk for taste.
3. Superfood lattes. We love making cacao, maca, or turmeric lattes. We like to work from an existing recipe found on google and optimize it to our own taste.
A maca and cacao latte is our favorite. These are the brands we recommend for your superfood lattes.
Is quitting caffeine good?
Based on our experiment, we don’t see the benefit of quitting coffee completely.
Being overstimulated by caffeine (more than 400 milligrams a day) is not healthy. However, being caffeine dependent, outside of occasional caffeine withdrawal headaches, is perfectly healthy.
Again, this is based on our experience and research. It’s best to speak with a professional who knows your health conditions if you have concerns.
For us, we’ve decided to drink 3 small cups of coffee per week. This will allow us to enjoy something we love while avoiding caffeine dependence.
When do you become caffeine dependent?
For most, caffeine dependence occurs when you consume 100 milligrams a day.
Is it bad to quit caffeine cold turkey?
No, it’s not bad, but it will be painful and your head is going to ache. If you plan to quit cold turkey, make sure your schedule is flexible and free.
We recommend quitting cold turkey since you’ll experience withdrawal symptoms either way.
If you have a strong opinion on this, share your story in the comments. We’d love to hear from others who have an opinion on cold turkey versus wean.
Where does a caffeine headache hurt?
You know it’s a caffeine headache if it hurts on the sides of your head, near your temples.
Also, caffeine headaches are especially stubborn and the best treatment is not moving at all and taking Ibuprofen or Tylenol.
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Hey we're Ryan and Alex
The creators of Ryan and Alex Duo Life. We are a husband-wife duo and “lifestyle engineers.”
After eight years working in the corporate world as engineers, we left our high-powered jobs to tackle our true passion — helping couples engineer their best lives.
The synergy of our engineering minds and ten years of health coaching experience produced Ryan and Alex Duo Life. Our mission is to help you transform your bodies, minds, and relationship as a couple.
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