I stopped drinking anything with caffeine in it on Saturday, February 22.
I have been a coffee drinker my entire adult life. I started in college, where instant Taster’s Choice fueled many a late-night homework session. When I entered the work world I took a cup in the office every morning. Later I added a couple of cups at home with breakfast. When I started having insomnia during my divorce I drank more coffee to push through sleep-deprived days. By about 10 years ago I was drinking a pot a day.
Last year my doctor suggested that all that caffeine was probably making it harder to nod off at night, so I started drinking half-caff in the morning at home. Later I cut out my after-lunch cup. I had a little less trouble falling asleep.
Early in February I read this article in which food writer Michael Pollan described a three-month caffeine fast he took. He said that after he went through very real withdrawals, his sleep started to improve. When I read that soon he was “sleeping like a teenager” I knew I wanted to try a caffeine fast, too.
My sleep has been so-so for several years. The stress of the last few years has added frequent insomnia to the mix. I’m tired most of the time. I’d very much like to sleep better.
I tried to wean myself off caffeine a little more over the next couple weeks by drinking quarter-caff in the morning and cutting out coffee in the office altogether. Then on that February Saturday, I quit entirely. I drink herbal tea now. Bigelow’s orange-spice tea satisfies me best.
This fast also means no Diet Coke or iced tea. Drinking water at a restaurant saves me a couple bucks on lunch, which was nice until the coronavirus ended restaurant lunches.
The Saturday I quit, I fell into in such a low mood that I lay around in bed half the day watching dumb TV. It didn’t help that I’d experienced a heavy disappointment that morning. I hadn’t had such a low day in years and years.
Sunday the headache came. It lasted three days, pulsing right at the base of my skull. Aspirin and ibuprofen dulled it but did not quell it.
For about a week I kept wanting …something. I couldn’t figure out what. I tried chocolate, I tried salty snacks, I drank extra herbal tea. Of course, my body was asking for caffeine. These heavy cravings subsided by the end of the first week. I guess that was the end of withdrawal.
Then I noticed a general lack of tension in my body. If you’ve been reading here for a while, you know I’m a generally anxious man. My mind still worries about stuff, but my body doesn’t carry it very much anymore. The feeling of physical calm feels both odd and wonderful.
I feel tired more easily and more often. Even the way tired feels has changed. I used to go, go, go, and then suddenly crash, feeling hollowed out. Now my body runs down more slowly and I am more aware of when it’s time to start wrapping up and getting ready for bed.
My sleep has not improved so far. I still have trouble nodding off, and I still frequently wake in the middle of the night for an hour or two. I hope better sleep comes.
I also notice I don’t feel as sharp. There’s just an edge that’s gone. I can’t decide whether I miss it or not.
Even without that edge, I function fine without caffeine. I’m as productive as I ever was. It turns out caffeine wasn’t helping me very much, even after a night of bad sleep.
I miss coffee, though. I like how it tastes.
I plan to fast entirely from caffeine until June 1. Then I’ll have a single cup of coffee and see what it feels like. If my sleep doesn’t improve, I’ll return to drinking coffee — just far less of it, one or two cups a day. Either way, I believe I’ll drink Diet Coke and iced tea again at restaurants.
So far, life is fine without caffeine.