Eventually, the day comes when your morning coffee stops working. You no longer feel that energetic, euphoric buzz that gets you going. Over time, caffeine loses its effectiveness. You’ve built a tolerance and it continues to grow with each cup.
There’s a fix.
Every quarter I do something I don’t like. Not one bit. I’m writing this on day nine of a coffee tolerance reset. A simple yet uncomfortable concept to reduce my dependence on coffee.
I complete a full tolerance reset by completely dropping caffeine for ten days.
Caffeine has both positive and negative effects. Since you’re reading this, you’re undoubtedly familiar with caffeine’s benefits. I challenge you to remove coffee and all sources of caffeine from your life for 7 to 12 days. Read on to learn what happens when you take a break from caffeine and why you should start resetting your tolerance today.
How Caffeine Works
Coffee contains a powerful drug. As enjoyable, usually delicious, and popular as it is, caffeine, the active ingredient in coffee is addictive.
Caffeine alters your brain’s normal chemical pathways, blocking the receptors responsible for producing the feeling of tiredness. A molecule called adenosine naturally occupies these receptors in the evening, helping you get to sleep. In the morning, the receptors are cleared of adenosine, lifting sleepiness. Caffeine hijacks the receptors, artificially controlling your energy levels.
Noticing these receptors constantly occupied, your brain creates more on each cell. Getting the same effect requires more caffeine to saturate all the receptors. And the fatigue without it feels worse.
People metabolize caffeine at very different speeds. No matter how fast you clear caffeine from your system, it takes multiple days to recalibrate back to a normal baseline.
Why You Should Cycle Caffeine Use
“If I wanted to increase mental illness in America, what would I do? I’d have everyone start their day with caffeine and end with alcohol because artificially going up and then down is not good for the brain.”Dr. Daniel Amen
Whether you like the rush, energy, and buzz of caffeine or not, it disrupts the normal functionality of your body. Over time, your body adapts to the routine influx of this potent stimulant and makes the necessary corrections. Corrections that reduce the effects of your daily dose. Now you need more caffeine just to get the same effect. You become insensitive to caffeine.
To restore caffeine sensitivity, and once again feel a rush from coffee, you have a few horrific options:
- Drink less coffee every day
- Completely give up coffee
- Cycle off coffee for a brief period
The body responds fantastically to change. You’ll become a more resilient human from breaking a strong drug-fueled habit. Temporarily banishing coffee isn’t easy, but the numerous benefits of a short caffeine tolerance break can keep you motivated.
Benefits of a Caffeine Break & Resetting Your Tolerance
Perhaps you’re on the fence about going through a dreadful period of no coffee.
The way you react to drugs like caffeine changes over time, with lifestyle and age. Only by removing all caffeine can you determine if it still serves you or has begun detracting from your health.
Taking a caffeine tolerance break has plenty of advantages:
- Convenience: one less time suck in your day.
- Productivity: the whole process of getting coffee can easily take an hour. Less so if you make it at home, time nonetheless.
- Resensitization: you’ll come back to your coffee ritual with more energy, needing less, and feeling more pronounced effects.
- Circadian rhythm normalization: Afternoon and evening caffeine consumption send the wrong signal to your body that night is far away, hurting your health.
- Breaking dependence: Who wants to be tethered to a compound? NEED your morning cup before starting the day? What happens if you can’t have it? Day ruined? Learning to function without caffeine is empowering.
- Sleeping: caffeine can degrade sleep, creating a nasty downward spiral. Unless you use sleep quantification technology like the Oura Ring, you might not even notice the sleep fragmenting effects of afternoon or evening caffeine. Waking up tired, and self-medicating with coffee further disrupts sleep requiring more coffee the following day.
- Reducing side-effects: caffeine users report side effects of racing heart, jitters, cold sweats, chest tension, and anxiety. Perhaps you no longer notice them. At the end of your tolerance break, you will require a lower dose and thus less potential for negative symptoms.
- Saving money: caffeine adds up. Especially if your coffee comes from a shop.
- Naturally feeling alert: your body is great at keeping your focus steady given the proper resources.
- Less crash: some people experience a sharp crash and intense fatigue once the caffeine has worn off.
- Less anxiety: one of the most common side-effects of caffeine usage. Anxiety problems often lift completely when caffeine is removed.
- Easier muscle gain: artificially spiking cortisol prevents lean muscle gain and encourages fat accumulation.
- Stronger bones: regularly consuming 300+ milligrams of caffeine (2-3 cups of coffee) can weaken bones.
- Lower blood pressure: caffeine spikes blood pressure.
- Fewer headaches: another common side effect, caffeine can act as both a headache and migraine trigger, or cause rebound headaches once it wears off.
- Improving mood: caffeine artificially alters mood, leading to potential mood swings. As is evident in pre-and-post coffee memes.
- Reducing acid reflux: caffeinated products are known to cause GERD and acid reflux.
- Whiter and stronger teeth: caffeine stains the teeth (speaking from personal experience), and can negatively affect tooth health.
- Lose weight: unless you drink it black, caffeine comes with calories in the form of MCT oil, milk, sugar, or creamer.
- Drug interactions: coffee is a drug and can interfere with other drugs.
- Skin: as a form of synthetic stress, some people break out from the caffeine or coffee additives.
- Identifying intolerance: as tough as it may be to accept, coffee doesn’t agree with everyone. Once you overcome the withdrawal, you may notice that you feel and perform best without. According to ancient Ayurvedic wisdom, a large portion of the population does best without.
Take note of these effects and observe how your body responds to zero caffeine.
How To Do a Caffeine Reset
When you’re ready to get started, it helps to go in with a plan.
Having a plan can be the difference between your body getting the necessary downtime to regenerate and rebuild, or quitting after the first day.
1. Decide How Long to Give Up Coffee
The full process of going from heavy user to caffeine-virgin feels like forever.In 7 – 12 days without any caffeine, you will become fully resensitized to its effects. Click To Tweet
Instead of adding more adenosine receptors on the surface of each cell as occurs from consuming caffeine, your brain reverses the process. In two weeks or less, you can bounce back to normal adenosine receptor levels and thus are back to baseline.
7 days: If a full reset is too daunting, make this a 7 day challenge.
9 days: A happy medium between the two where you only skip one (work) week of coffee.
12+ days: Be extra sure you’re completely reset by continuing for a full 12 days.
To reset your caffeine tolerance, you should cut out caffeine for at least seven days, and preferably 12 days for a full recalibration.
Whichever you choose, you can always adjust later depending on how you feel.
2. Establish an Emergency Drink Replacement
I find my coffee deeply satisfying. Not just the drink. Perhaps harder than the withdrawal itself, is the void in my morning ritual.
Especially during the first few days when the coffee cravings hit hardest. Old habits can run on autopilot. You might catch yourself in the process of brewing a cup or subconsciously standing in line at your local coffee shop. I found it easiest to break the loop by replacing coffee with another semi-satisfying warm drink.
Great coffee alternatives for tolerance reset include:
- Bone Broth Latte (my favorite replacement)
- Swiss Water Process Decaffeinated Organic Coffee (use in moderation since it still contains some caffeine)
- Golden Milk Latte
- Chicory Coffee
- Decaffeinated Teas
- Herbal Teas
- Warm Lemon Water
Decaffeinated drinks still may contain other stimulants, so use sparingly. These coffee alternatives can save you from caving into temptations along the way. You know your personality best, so choose whichever you most enjoy.
3A. Caffeine Reduction: The Halving Method
The gentle way to temporarily give up coffee. The halving method involves cutting your caffeine consumption in half every day until you’re completely caffeine free.
A sample progression might be:
- Day 1: 4 cups of coffee
- Day 2: 2 cups of coffee
- Day 3: 1 cup of coffee
- Day 4: 1/2 cups of coffee
- Day 5: 1/4 cups of coffee
- Day 6: 1/4 cups of coffee
- Day 7: zero coffee
In the above sample, the zero caffeine challenge wouldn’t really begin until day seven.
|Fewer withdrawal symptoms||Longer|
|Less stressful change||Requires self-discipline|
3B. Caffeine Reduction: Going Cold Turkey
Heavy caffeine users strap in, the cold turkey approach is faster but more painful.
For a drug as popular as caffeine, the withdrawal symptoms can be miserable. Headaches, migraines, fatigue being the largest complaints.
|Faster||More withdrawal symptoms|
|Black and white, no room for interpretation||Shocks the body and can interfere with life|
I prefer the cold turkey approach. If I’m going to commit to it, I want to be all in and finish as quick as possible.
Tips on Reducing Coffee Intake
Dozens of caffeine cycles later, I’ve found the hacks that make quitting easier.
Here are a few things you can do to make the experience more pleasant.
Caffeine Reset Tip #1: Start on The Weekend
The first couple of days are usually the hardest. Sometimes I’ll start on Friday, but I usually wait until the weekend.
Outside of my quarterly coffee-free time, I usually switch to decaf on the weekends to give myself a mini break while retaining the habit.
You’ll probably feel a little more tired, sluggish, and down. On the weekend you have more control of how you respond and your schedule. If you need a nap or some downtime, go ahead and take it.
Starting on the weekend means that by Monday, much of the fatigue, crankiness, and other side effects will have passed. Your coworkers will thank you for starting over the weekend.
Caffeine Reset Tip #2: Eat Clean For Steady Energy
Like coffee, junk food provides a huge surge of energy. You might feel great, but an hour or two afterward you crash. You crave sweets, salt, a nap, and anything to boost energy. Including…
The more you send your blood sugar on a rollercoaster ride, the more willpower it’ll take to resist caffeine.
What better time to notice how food impacts your energy levels (and motivation)? Quality food provides a slow drip of clean-burning energy.
Caffeine Reset Tip #3: Get More Sleep Than Usual
Coffee at dinner isn’t the only threat to sleep.
Some slow metabolizers suffer poor sleep if consumed afternoon.
Cutting out coffee will help you sleep like a teenager. Take some of that extra time and put it towards sleep. You’ll get more slow-wave (deep) restorative sleep.
My coffee cravings subside significantly when I sleep just an extra 15-30 minutes.
Use that to your advantage and watch your productivity increase.
Caffeine Reset Tip #4: Time Your Reset Wisely
I pen my resets into the first day of every quarter. Sometimes things come up. Life gets hectic and I’m under additional stress.
Caffeine’s a stressor, but so is making large lifestyle changes like cutting out coffee. The toll of life stress plus caffeine withdrawal can be too much.
I recommend being flexible. Push back or pull up a reset given the circumstances. But if you’re delaying weeks or months, it’s probably a good idea to get your overall stress in check (and practice some stress resilience strategies).
Fit your caffeine reset around your existing schedule. Pencil it into a low-stress period, knowing that the first few days are always the worst.
Caffeine Reset Tip #5: Avoid Hidden Caffeine Sources & Additives
Caffeine isn’t relegated to coffee and pre-workout supplements.
I once finished a 14-day coffee reset only to feel the same from my first cup. I traced back my mistake. Caffeine hides in all kinds of products and additives:
- Dark chocolate: the darker the more caffeine (my downfall)
- Soda (not recommended anyway)
- Decaf coffee
- Coffee, mocha and chocolate desserts and yogurts (another questionable choice)
- Pain-relieving pills (Excedrin)
I did the math and realized that I still consumed 100+ milligrams of caffeine most “reset” days.
I thought that I made it through, but it turns out that I wasted my time by subconsciously overcompensating with 85 percent cacao dark chocolate, decaf coffee and kombucha.
Quitting Caffeine Once Every Quarter
7 days will go by before you know it. You’ll start feeling good after the initial hump. By day six my energy is consistently above and more steady than anything even a cold brew can do. I feel great. Sometimes I’ll push the envelope and tack on another five or so days to really get the most out of the reset.
More often than not, I’m excited to get back to my habit.
I roast a fresh batch of coffee the night before I end in celebration.There's nothing quite like the first cup of coffee after a caffeine reset challenge. #Outliyr #CaffeineChallenge Click To Tweet
When you’re done start slow. The four to five cups it took to give you a buzz might only take one.
For the ultimate coffee boost, give my Genius Coffee recipe (upgraded Bulletproof Coffee) a try.
Removing caffeine from your life for a while puts you in the perfect spot to give your body a rest, re-evaluate, and notice how it affects you.