I’ve drunk a lot of coffee since I was at university, more than 20 years ago now. I think I’d read somewhere that Spanish men were so macho, that for breakfast, they only drank strong black coffee and had a cigarette. I thought that was pretty cool. Angelique rolls her eyes when I tell her that. “That’s the reason you drink coffee?!”, she says.
I used to drink a double cafetiere of coffee with one ‘fingers-worth’ of ground coffee in the bottom of it. Before going to work, I used to have a coffee before leaving the house, have a double espresso from the cafe in the train station, then have one when I got to work, and then one in the late morning, then maybe one after lunch. Perhaps not surprisingly, I used to get a lot of insomnia.
The insomnia has calmed down in recent years, and I attribute that to a new-ish rule of no coffee/caffeine after lunch. So in general, I’ll have a fairly rich and punchy instant espresso when I wake up and another before noon at the latest.
Recently though, I’ve had some insomnia come back, and so I’ve made a connection that I’ve probably been avoiding for years, like an ostrich:
Maybe I’m much more sensitive to caffeine that I previously thought. Maybe I should really cut back on my caffeine, and maybe it would cut down any excess anxiety.
We’ve seen from Why We Sleep that caffeine has a half-life of around 7 hours, so by bedtime, there’s always going to be some caffeine in your system, unless you’re an outlier that can process caffeine better than most.
Day 1 – Monday
I started off with a decaf but soon got tiredness and fogginess. I had to supplement that with a very small amount of instant. I did some quick research into stopping caffeine cold turkey, and it was not recommended! Common side-effects are headaches, jitters, insomnia, irritability. Not good. I resolve to wean off it slowly.
Day 2 – Tuesday
This time, I had a very small amount of instant espresso to start the day. I never measure coffee out – always by eye instead. Today though, I put a flat teaspoon in the cup, and it was watery as hell. But that plus a decaf afterwards meant no headaches and enough oomph to get through the day.
Day 3 – Wednesday
Same as Day 2 – Tuesday.
Day 4 – Thursday
I made the same coffee, but I had just two mouthfuls and then tipped the rest down the sink. I had a decaf after that. Felt pretty good for the rest of the day and even had some unexpected peppiness. Tomorrow, I’ll try just a decaf or two before 10am.
Day 5 to 8
Just decaf on these days. Felt okay and not too tired. But still tired.
No coffee, not even decaf.
Oddly, I had some serious insomnia that evening of the 9th day, and the following night as well. Not even a wink of sleep. I had thought that trace amounts of caffeine in my body at night might be keeping me from falling asleep really easily. However, it didn’t seem to make a difference to whether I slept or not. Which was pretty much the whole aim of this experiment! Oh and reduced anxiety. I did notice a reduction in anxiety, which is one plus to take away from this.
Giving up caffeine is hard, particularly if you’ve been drinking buckets of the stuff for decades. I couldn’t really see any benefits in terms of insomnia. There were benefits in terms of reduced anxiety.
The negatives of giving up caffeine is a reduced peppiness and less mental sharpness. Both things I couldn’t live without.
I stopped the experiment around Day 10. I now limit myself to 2 coffees maximum in the morning, and ideally before 11am. I might even forgo the second one some days. My coffees are less strong and instead of double espressos, I’ll order a single shot. (Often, it’s actually the same amount of volume in the cup as what I thought was a double espresso, so maybe I’ve been overpaying all these years.)
Overall, would I recommend this experiment? I’d have to say no. I didn’t see a benefit to getting to caffeine-zero. I do see a benefit of having some caffeine but not lots of it. So we get to the conclusion of trying caffeine in moderation, which isn’t that ground-breaking! But maybe try experimenting with where your level of moderation is. Maybe like me, you’re more sensitive to caffeine than you think. If you think you’re drinking a lot of coffee and it’s potentially giving you anxiety or insomnia, just try reducing your caffeine intake, and timing your drinking to earlier in the day.