Before we talk about quitting caffeine, let’s look at what it actually does.
How Caffeine Affects Your Adrenaline
No matter what you put in your body, it changes your chemistry. For good if it’s stuff like healthy food. For ill if it is something like toxic air. Caffeine is no exception and its effects can be significant if you have enough of it. When you consume it, one of its main effects is the forced release of the hormone epinepherine.1 Also called adrenaline, this hormone causes your heart to beat harder, increasing blood flow and of course blood pressure.2 Since your cells are getting more oxygen and can thus function at a ‘higher level,’ you feel more energetic overall.
The Dopamine Connection
Another role of caffeine in your biochemistry is that it inhibits adenosine from entering brain receptors. Normally, as these receptors fill up throughout the day, they inhibit brain activity, which translates to you feeling tired.3 This is good because you are able to sleep and sleeping allows your body to remove all that adenosine. Caffeine, however, blocks these receptors so adenosine can’t enter them and make you feel tired. Enough caffeine and you block tons of these receptors, which makes you feel full of energy.
On top of that, caffeine also slows dopamine reabsorption.4 Normally, dopamine, know as the ‘feel good hormone’ is absorbed after it is released, keeping your mood “normal.” But caffeine slows that process and so you get the effects of dopamine for longer. So not only do you feel more energetic, but it can also improve your mood.
So Why Do We Do Caffeine?
All this together creates a perfect storm of energy and mood, which is exactly why so many people use caffeine, most often in sodas, energy drinks and coffee. The downside though, is that the more caffeine you ingest, the more your brain acclimates to it. Your cells do this by producing more receptors for adenosine.5 That means you need more caffeine in order to plug up all these new receptors and get the same result.
We’ve all met the guy who drinks a gallon of coffee throughout the day, including before bed and still sleeps like a baby. He’s got a serious problem! But worse, you might too. Do you drink more than 400mg of caffeine each day? If you do, chances are you are addicted because your brain is becoming more and more resistant to it by creating more and more adenosine receptors. Not only that, your adrenal glands are probably being seriously overworked. So, although there certainly are benefits to caffeine, there are also benefits to quitting caffeine.
Seriously? Quitting Caffeine!
Lower blood pressure is a great reason to quit
It may seem contradictory that just a minute ago I said that increased blood pressure increased oxygen to cells, and it does. But, it does it at the expense of the heart working harder than it should have to.7 Of course, some pressure is essential to moving your blood in the first place but too much for too long can result in heart disease, stroke and/or heart attack.8 I’m betting you aren’t interested in any of those!
You can save money by quitting caffeine
I’ve known people that regularly spend as much as $20 or more a day on coffee. That’s insane! We’re talking thousands of dollars per year. Just the average spent on coffee (not even including energy drinks or sodas) is $1000 per year. What if instead, you invested that into your 401k (assuming a 10% return)? Over 30 years, you’d be out $30,000 but you’d have realized $160,000 in interest.9 Is your caffeine fix worth $160,000? And don’t forget, this is JUST coffee.
Imagine getting more, better, sleep
Just a reminder; adenosine makes you feel tired. Caffeine blocks it and thus keeps you from feeling tired. So, if you want to sleep and you have caffeine blocking those receptors, it just isn’t gonna happen. You can usually prevent this by NOT having caffeine within at least 5 hours of bedtime. That may or may not be long enough though. I personally find that sometimes I feel jittery when I try to go to bed as much as 8 hours after having caffeine.
Worry less with less caffeine
Some people feel less anxiety with caffeine. I personally am one of them. But some people are the opposite and it seems that genetics is the biggest factor in this effect.10 Regardless of who you are, it will make you feel more energetic but could also up your anxiety.
Quitting caffeine may mean fewer headaches
Oddly enough, most people that quit caffeine ‘cold turkey’ experience headaches but those that drink it regularly are more likely to have more of them. After quitting, your headaches usually don’t last more than a few days as you experience withdrawal. But when you consume caffeine, remember, it is directly affecting your brain chemistry. The result is often headaches.11 Often this is called an ‘over-use’ headache and typically only occurs with those that consume a lot of caffeine. More moderate doses (i.e. under 400mg per day), not-so-much.
You may be much happier
Although caffeine tends to improve energy, focus and often mood, it can also cause irritability in some people.12 If you have ever known one of these people, you know how unpleasant they are to be around. So, if you get irritable from caffeine, do us all a favor and just get more sleep, please!
Live a simpler life by quitting caffeine
Visualize your life WITHOUT stopping at Starbucks everyday or “needing” your morning fix on a Saturday AFTER you slept in. Even if you make your own coffee, think of all that effort saved. Heck, now you’ll even have time for breakfast!
Get a sexier smile
I still remember one of my 5th grade teachers because of her yellow-ish teeth. She was a pretty lady and a good teacher, but her teeth are the reason she stands out in my mind. Surely, she brushed everyday but she also sipped from her cup of coffee all day, every day. Caffeine alone does not stain teeth, but coffee does, and it is the drink of choice for a lot of folks. A family of acids, called tannins, is naturally found in coffee and happens to be the same acid used to tan animal hides.13 Enough said!
It’s strange, but quitting caffeine makes it work better
As mentioned already, your brain cells adjust to caffeine over time by creating more adenosine receptors. But go off of caffeine and those extra receptors are eventually eliminated.14 That means that if you do use caffeine again, suddenly it’ll hit you much harder like it used to. At least for a time, you won’t have to drink 19 coffees to get your fix!
Say “Goodbye” to the jitters
The fact of the matter is most people overdo caffeine. That’s because there’s no magic meter that tells our bodies how much we can handle. So, most people err on the side of ensuring they get enough. This of course, makes you feel MORE energetic than maybe you meant to. In other words, the jitters.12 Some people experience the jitters regularly because they regularly consume too much caffeine.
Maybe the best reason for quitting caffeine; lower diabetes risk
Consuming coffee, not necessarily caffeine, is associated with a higher risk of diabetes according to studies. This is a bit perplexing because it seems like it should do the opposite, or at least not affect diabetes. What we know for sure is that sugar consumption is strongly connected with Type 2 Diabetes and what is coffee without plenty of sugar?15 Isn’t it ironic, that coffee tastes like crap by itself? We add a bunch of sugars and flavoring to make it palatable, but it seems that might be the very cause for the diabetes connection. While there are theories on why, it is clear that drinking coffee with sugar is pretty common. And let’s be honest, when have you ever not had sugar in some form in your coffee? Unfortunately, although the stuff makes things taste so good, it is also good friends with diabetes. 15
Caffeine is not bad. Too much caffeine, particularly over time, is. Increased energy and focus are always a good thing, especially through a tough workout or the snoozer board meeting with your colleagues. The problem is, most people go overboard, which is easy to do. Before you know it, you’re the guy that can down an energy drink and then go to bed. So maybe quitting caffeine is the best option so you’re not the guy that dies from a massive heart attack.
Instead, you might consider something that can increase your energy levels naturally, like ginseng. I know, caffeine is natural but it is a natural stimulant. Tobacco is natural too and I’m certainly not recommending that! Ginseng is NOT a stimulant.
You should also ensure you are getting enough sleep. Many people use caffeine to give them energy to make up for not sleeping enough. If you get 8 hours a night and are consistent with your bedtime and wake-up time, you will likely find that you don’t even feel like you need any caffeine.