Whether you’re cutting down on coffee because you’re experiencing side effects like the jitters, or giving up energy drinks in a bid to improve your sleep, caffeine withdrawal is something to look out for.
Headaches, fatigue, and brain fog are all common symptoms, but how long they last and how bad they are will be different for everyone. Even more surprising? You don’t need to cut out caffeine altogether to feel these withdrawal symptoms. Even skipping just one coffee a day can cause them.
Below, we’ll cover what exactly caffeine withdrawal feels like and how long the symptoms can last. Plus, we’ll cover the best ways to get over caffeine withdrawal and whether you really need to give up caffeine to begin with.
Want to master the art of consuming caffeine? We’ve answered every question you could have about caffeine, sleep, and energy here.
Caffeine isn’t considered addictive, but you can develop a tolerance for it. That is, your body gets used to it and you need more of it to feel the same stimulating effects. Plus, you begin to struggle without it, creating caffeine dependence.
Caffeine withdrawal is also a very real thing. It’s now recognized as a medical disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) — a handbook used by healthcare professionals to diagnose disorders.
Caffeine also easily disrupts your sleep. If you consume too much too close to bedtime, you’ll find yourself wide awake in bed, unable to get the sleep you need each night. This leads to more tiredness the next day, meaning you’re much more likely to reach for an extra cup of coffee, continuing the vicious cycle. This is why many of us decide to cut out caffeine altogether.
Caffeine withdrawal will feel different for everyone. This is partly due to genetics, but also due to how much caffeine you’re used to having and how long you’ve been having it for.
The common caffeine withdrawal symptoms include:
In general, caffeine withdrawal symptoms can start 12 to 24 hours after you have your last hit of caffeine. Symptoms will be at their worst 20 to 51 hours after, and they can last anywhere from two to nine days. One study even suggested caffeine withdrawal headaches could last for 21 days.
Some people experience withdrawal symptoms sooner, though. One study looked at participants who had 250 mg of caffeine or a placebo in the morning, and their withdrawal symptoms were measured around noon. For those who took the placebo, even in that short time, withdrawal symptoms were present.
The researchers, Barbara G. Phillips-Bute and James D. Lane, wrote:
“Even short periods of caffeine deprivation, equivalent in length to missing regular morning coffee, can produce noticeable unpleasant caffeine withdrawal symptoms in habitual coffee drinkers.”
The number of symptoms you get and how severe these are can be worse if you’re used to having a lot of caffeine each day.
One study looked at caffeine consumers who were used to 100 mg, 300 mg, or 600 mg of caffeine a day. The results showed the range and severity of withdrawal symptoms were worse with higher doses. For example, those who were used to 600 mg had significantly worse headaches and poor moods than those who were used to 100 mg a day. However, even those who were used to having just 100 mg of caffeine — about one cup of coffee a day — still experienced withdrawal symptoms.
If you consume caffeine daily, symptoms may be worse for you, too. Research found those who drink coffee daily experienced more headaches, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and mood disturbances when they didn’t have caffeine for 16 hours compared to those who gave it up for the same amount of time, but didn’t usually drink coffee every day.
It doesn’t take long for your body to get used to caffeine, either. One study found participants experienced withdrawal symptoms after just three days of caffeine consumption, but the researchers also found these symptoms were much worse for those who had seven or 14 days of caffeine exposure.
And when you have your caffeine in the day doesn’t seem to affect withdrawal symptoms. Research found those who had 300 mg of caffeine in a single dose in the morning experienced the same level of withdrawal symptoms as those who had three 100 mg doses of caffeine throughout the day.
The same researchers found those who were used to consuming 300 mg of caffeine a day needed a “substantial reduction” — at least 100 mg — to cause withdrawal symptoms. However, when you consider the average 8-ounce cup of coffee can be about 95 milligrams, that doesn’t sound like much.
But, if there’s a way you can cut out caffeine without knowing it, you may experience fewer withdrawal symptoms. A 2016 study found when regular coffee drinkers gave up caffeine for 24 hours, those who drank decaf, but thought they were drinking normal coffee, experienced fewer withdrawal symptoms than those who knew they were drinking decaf.
Having some caffeine has been shown to clear up symptoms of withdrawal quickly — even within 30 to 60 minutes. However, if you’re trying to cut back, or cut it out altogether, that’s not very helpful. Instead, here’s what you can do to help overcome caffeine withdrawal:
Going cold turkey can make symptoms more severe. Instead, try weaning yourself off by slowly cutting down the amount of caffeine you have each day over the course of several weeks. According to the American Migraine Foundation, you should reduce caffeine intake by 25% each week to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
You could have one shot of coffee in your latte instead of two, or switch one cup for a drink with less caffeine content, like green tea. Plus, if you find yourself craving the taste of coffee, try switching a cup or two to decaf.
However, you should seek medical advice if you’re worried about how cutting down on caffeine could affect you.
Being dehydrated can make headaches and fatigue worse, so hydration is key.
Treat headaches with over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen.
You may be feeling extra tired and sluggish, so aim to keep your sleep debt low to reduce how much this impacts your day. Sleep debt is the measure of how much sleep you owe your body over the last 14 nights. If you haven’t been meeting your sleep need — the genetically determined amount of sleep you need each night — you’ll have built up quite a bit of sleep debt.
The RISE app can work out how much sleep debt you have and keep track of it as you pay it back. We recommend keeping sleep debt below five hours to feel and perform your best.
If you find you’ve got a lot of sleep debt, you can pay it back by:
Coffee isn’t the only way to perk yourself up: get some natural light exposure, exercise, drink some water, or take a nap. We’ve covered more caffeine-free ways to wake yourself up here.
To improve your energy long term, keep your sleep debt low and sync up with your circadian rhythm — your internal body clock that runs on a roughly 24-hour cycle. One part of getting in sync is to go to bed and wake up at the right times for you, and similar times each day.
Your focus and productivity may take a hit when you first start cutting down on caffeine, so it’s more important than ever to work with your natural peaks and dips in your energy cycle.
The RISE app can predict when these are for you each day. This way, you can schedule your most demanding tasks — like presentations, writing, or sales calls — for your energy peaks, and least demanding tasks — like admin, emails, or taking a break — when your energy naturally dips.
The afternoon energy dip is also the perfect time to take a nap, which also helps to relieve some of the extra tiredness you may feel from skipping your daily coffees.
Unless you’re experiencing severe side effects or severe sleep disruptions — like insomnia — you may not actually have to give up your caffeine habit altogether. If you’re considering giving up caffeinated beverages because they’re disrupting your sleep, there may be another way to make sure this doesn’t happen. You just need to find out your caffeine cutoff time.
Your caffeine cutoff time is the time of day when you should have your last coffee — or anything else containing caffeine — to give your body enough time to break it down by bedtime. Caffeine can last in your system for more than 12 hours, so even if you have your last coffee for the day at 3 p.m., it may still keep you up past midnight. We’ve covered more about how long caffeine lasts here.
For most people, their caffeine cutoff time will be around noon, though for night owls it may be a little later at around 2 p.m. However, the exact timing of it is unique to you, and it can even change each day.
That’s because it’s dependent on your circadian rhythm, which dictates your ideal bedtime and is affected by everything from light to meal times to how long you slept the night before. The RISE app takes the guesswork out of it by predicting your circadian rhythm each day based on things like your phone use behavior and inferred light exposure.
Then, 10 hours before your ideal biological bedtime, the app will show you when you should stop having caffeine for the day. You can adjust the timing of this to be a little closer or further away from your ideal bedtime depending on how sensitive to caffeine you are.
Beyond coffee, remember to avoid other sources of caffeine after your cutoff time, like chocolate and other caffeinated drinks like green tea, black tea, yerba mate, and energy drinks.
You may find instead of giving up caffeine altogether — and going through all those withdrawal symptoms — you can simply honor this cutoff time instead. This way, you can enjoy the taste of a coffee in the morning, and all the energy-boosting effects of caffeine, and still fall asleep soundly at nighttime.
Caffeine withdrawal symptoms can last for up to nine days, and how severe these are all depends on genetics, how much caffeine you’re used to having, and how long you’ve been having it for. If you’re cutting down or back on caffeine, you can use the RISE app to improve your energy levels — all without coffee — by keeping your sleep debt low and syncing up with your circadian rhythm.
Plus, you may not need to cut out caffeine at all. By paying attention to your caffeine cutoff time each day, you may be able to enjoy caffeine up until this time, and still get all the sleep you need at night to be at your best.
Common symptoms of caffeine withdrawal include headaches, fatigue, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, brain fog, anxiety, tremors, and flu-like symptoms.
Caffeine withdrawal fatigue can last anywhere from two to nine days. If you’re sleep deprived and rely on coffee to perk you up, though, you may feel fatigue until you address this.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), caffeine withdrawal is not dangerous. However, you may feel withdrawal symptoms like headaches and fatigue for two to nine days.
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