You've heard of the dreaded caffeine withdrawal symptoms — the unpleasant way you'll feel when you try to give up your habit of over-caffeinating yourself. Before you bite the bullet and move forward, you're probably wondering what kind of caffeine withdrawal timeline you can expect.
When will you start to feel symptoms? When will they be at their worst? How long will they last? As with breaking any other habit, giving up caffeine shouldn't have to be a stressful experience or else you're never going to be successful in changing your life. Here's what you should consider before you officially say ciao to your morning cup of joe.
Why Give Up Coffee?
No matter how much you love your coffee, there are reasons you might want to give it up — or at least cut back. The good news is that the average American consumes only 200 milligrams of caffeine daily, and you can safely consume up to 400 milligrams every day. But beyond that, you're running the risk of having too much.
MedlinePlus points out that an 8-ounce cup of coffee has about 95 to 200 milligrams of caffeine, so depending on how strong your brew is, you could have about 2 to 4 cups throughout the day. A 12-ounce can of soda has 35 to 45 milligrams, and an 8-ounce cup of tea has 14 to 60 milligrams.
If you're consuming too much caffeine, you might experience such symptoms as restlessness, insomnia or a rapid heart rhythm. If you're especially sensitive to caffeine, you might feel some of these symptoms even when you consume only moderate amounts.
Additionally, there are many people who should avoid or limit caffeine because of certain medical conditions. Pregnant or lactating women should avoid caffeine because a small amount of it could be passed along to the baby. People with sleep disorders, anxiety, high blood pressure or ulcers should avoid caffeine, as should people with migraine or chronic headaches.
Your Caffeine Withdrawal Timeline
People don't exactly become addicted to caffeine the way they do to other drugs, but they can develop a dependence on it. And because so many people are afraid of experiencing withdrawal symptoms, they resolve not to cut back and to just be dependent on it.
Caffeine withdrawal is usually felt when people consume too much habitually. So if you consume only 200 milligrams a day and you miss a day, you likely won't feel anything. But if you consume more than 500 milligrams regularly over a long period of time, you can expect to feel withdrawal when you try to stop suddenly.
Caffeine withdrawal has a timeline that isn't too bad in the grand scheme of things. First, consider how your body metabolizes caffeine. After you consume it, you can feel it about 15 minutes later. Caffeine works its effects for the next few hours, sometimes taking as long as 10 hours to be fully out of your bloodstream.
This all takes a matter of hours. It can sometimes take four to six hours to get even half the caffeine out of you, and can potentially take 10 hours for all of it to be gone. This is why withdrawal symptoms can set in as quickly as 12 hours after your last dose of caffeine, though it could take up to 24 hours. Everyone's caffeine withdrawal length will vary, but you will likely feel symptoms over the course of the next two to nine days.
You might feel withdrawal in the form of a headache, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, impaired cognitive performance, nausea and vomiting, constipation, muscle stiffness and other symptoms. Caffeine withdrawal nausea and headaches can be unpleasant, which is why many people opt to remain caffeine dependent.
The amount of caffeine you're used to consuming will affect your caffeine withdrawal length and severity: If you're used to consuming a lot, your symptoms will be worse and last longer. Just remember that caffeine withdrawal is unpleasant but not dangerous, so you can stick out the caffeine withdrawal nausea if you really need to.
But as soon as you go back to caffeine, the withdrawal symptoms will go away, which is why many people find themselves trapped in a dependency cycle where they try to quit, give up and fall back into old habits.
Cutting Back Responsibly
The best way to break your caffeine dependency is not to give it up all at once. Instead, you should cut back slowly. You might think that you want you caffeine withdrawal length to be as short as possible, but stretching it out longer will mean it is less severe.
Trying replacing every other cup of coffee or tea with a cup of decaf and stretch your cutback over the course of two to three weeks so that you don't feel its effects.
It's important to bear in mind, however, that decaf doesn't mean free of caffeine. Decaf coffees and teas have less caffeine, but it hasn't been completely eliminated. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration notes that decaf coffee might have 2 to 15 milligrams of caffeine per 8-ounce cup, so if you're extremely sensitive to caffeine, you should aim to cut these beverages eventually too.
When you need to reduce your caffeine withdrawal timeline quickly — that is, you can't wait three weeks to cut back slowly, and you are just going to need to endure the unpleasant symptoms over the next two to nine days — there are ways to make it more bearable.
Mayo Clinic suggests brewing some tea or decaf coffee, as these have far less caffeine but can still satisfy certain cravings. The Cleveland Clinic encourages drinking plenty of water because it will help flush the caffeine out of your system.
A Life With Less Caffeine
Once you've made it through your caffeine withdrawal timeline, whether it was nine days or three weeks, you can start finding other ways to energize yourself without the use of caffeine. Hydration and rest will make a big difference. You'll have a healthier sleep cycle, with more peaceful nights leading to well-rested days, and being hydrated with fluids other than coffee will help with your focus.
If you later decide to incorporate caffeine back into your lifestyle, be conscious of not exceeding the recommended 400 milligrams, and if you're especially sensitive, watch out for negative side effects that indicate you have had too much.
- Cleveland Clinic: “Caffeine and Headache”
- Cleveland Clinic: “Caffeine: Tips for Breaking the Habit”
- MedlinePlus: “Caffeine”
- Food and Drug Administration: “Spilling the Beans: How Much Caffeine Is Too Much”
- National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens: "Is Caffeine Really Addictive?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Caffeine: How Much is Too Much?"
- Chiff: Caffeine Withdrawal (n.d.)
- Food and Drug Administration: Medicines in my Home, Caffeine and Your Body