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Ask HN: How do I stop caffeine intake without losing productivity?
46 points by maceurt 24 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 53 comments
I started using caffeine with coffee and tea around 5-6 years ago, and had major benifits cognitively and enjoyed the mood boost also. However, my caffeine intake has gotten to the point where not having a cup of coffee for even 24 hours leaves me with a bad headache and fatigued. I have tried to stop using caffeine in the past, but my productivity has always dipped significantly, and with school/ work I know that a dip in productivity would have big negative effects on my life that would not be worth it. So, knowing a lot of you guys consume a lot of caffeine, is there any methods you guys have used to stop using it besides going cold turkey?

Cold turkey.

1. Quit caffeine on a Thursday and take the day off on Friday (optional).

2. Go for a hike on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. (optional but recommended)

3. Each day you need to force yourself to try and focus on programming as well. You should get something - anything - committed into the repo you're working in. Motivation and your mental state is one thing that you need to train while you're at your nadir. When you get your energy back it'll seem like you were never on caffeine in the first place.

4. On each of those days take a nap any damn time you please. Take pain killers if you must.

Come Monday you should be at about 80%-90%. Enjoy your freedom.

I've used this technique twice after trying to transition unsuccessfully a few times before. Been off it for 7ish months now. Good luck, friend.

Coming from the coffee industry this comment is mostly the best steps I read so far. It's common for coffee professionals to quit coffee for 10-15 days 2-3 times a year. It is mostly in your own head. I went cold turkey and did not missed it at all, other times it was feeling like hell but it was worth it.

Maybe we all react differently to the chemical, but "mostly in your head" is also how I'd describe it. Personally, I don't have a problem not enjoying my routine morning cup. It's preferable, but I've never had "actual" withdrawal symptoms like described above.

I can't just have a morning cup without it escalating into something like 10 cups a day.

Then suddenly not enjoying those is a different story from yanking away the morning cup.

Just no. Don't think about this. It's not just headaches that come with caffeine withdrawal. The muscle pain is real, very real. Taper it off.

A hot tub helps the muscle pain.

I find it takes more like a week to fully get rid of the headaches and tiredness. The real challenge comes the next time I get extremely busy - its hard to not reach for the crutch

Jesus, don't take painkillers...but definitely do things that increase dopamine etc the days following. Read that as you will.

Think they meant OTC pain relievers (Advil, Tylenol, etc) which will help with the headaches/body aches.

But if they didn’t, don’t use an addictive substance to come off of another addictive substance. You might just transfer that addiction.

Unfortunately, it can take as long as two weeks to recover, and the withdrawal can keep ramping up for several days.

Here is an example of something.

The last time I quit caffeine, I went for a piddly little four mile run on day five or six. This is something I'm more than accustomed to as a regular runner. Moreover, I ran it at a snail's pace. Yet, the next day, my entire body was sore: arms, shoulders, back, abdominals, not to mention legs: calves, quads, shins, everything. It was worse than after having run a marathon. The soreness almost a week to completely dissipate.

It's not just your brain that is used to the caffeine, but your entire body.

Basically, two weeks of plodding through a fog, with a heavy body.

> Take pain killers if you must.

Just, obviously, avoid anything with caffeine, like Excedrin.

This is almost exactly how I stopped too

One addition:

Diet - put good, clean foods in your system. Blueberries, avocados, leafy greens, walnuts, etc.

I mean, I've never succeeded in stopping, but I pretty much only drink coffee for the buzz and it actually makes me less productive so I'm still qualified to answer ;)

1. Usually people who use stimulants for productivity don't have cognitive problems they have motivation problems. The gold standard for this is make lists. Lists should be short and made up of achievable items. New list every day. Throw out the previous day's list once you've finished writing today's. If you're in school study/practice with other people it is a huge improvement. Try to use timeboxes for things (in the morning I will study for 1 hour, etc), it's not sexy, but it works. If you have trouble maintaining your attention for a full hour without caffeine, use shorter tasks and take more time upfront breaking them up.

2. Exercise in the mornings. Don't skip breakfast.

3. don't quit it on a Monday, take painkillers. There are NSAID with caffeine formulations that you could probably taper on (they usually don't have as much caffeine per pill as you'd get from your usual Starbucks).

4. I actually kinda like chocolate for the mood boost part. Almost as good as coffee, tastier, even exists in hot beverage form.

I do drink chicory or decaf if I've already had 5-6 cups of real coffee and it's pretty good and provides the same "I just took a break" feeling, however, I could never fully replace coffee with it (if anything, it made me want real coffee more). I would recommend if you'd like to decrease consumption vs just stopping, it does help to trick your brain at first.

Gradually decreasing your caffeine consumption until you reach a healthy level probably makes more sense than going cold turkey.

The next time you get a coffee craving at work, stop and think about how you are feeling and what you really want. My guess is that you are feeling anxious and distracted. My guess is that coffee isn't really what you want. What you want is to get away from your desk, take a break, and feel less anxious and distracted. Am I right?

While a good cup of coffee helps us get going in the morning, too much caffeine can cause anxiety. If anxiety is the root issue, you are essentially stuck in a feedback loop by attempting to treat your anxiety with something that is causing more anxiety. Try CBD oil. I use Exlininol brand, specifically the liposome formulation. Also, you can take a break, get up and walk around without getting coffee.

I've made a guess which may be dead wrong, so apologies if I'm barking up the wrong tree here.

I‘ve been through this several times. While writing my thesis I drank 20-25 cups of instant coffee per day. After that, my highest consumption was around 7-8 strong cups. I went cold turkey several times, it works (2 weeks with headaches and fatigue usually), usually for months until I slowly start drinking 1-2 cups again. Also tried:

* more complicated coffee preparation, i.e. ditching the automatic coffee maker for an Italian machine with long warming-up times and manual bean grinding. Doesn‘t really work, I just made stronger, larger cups

* coffee that doesn‘t taste good - without sugar, mediocre brands, capsule machine - works somewhat to reduce consumption but requires discipline

* no coffee machine at home or at work - works well, though takeaway coffee can be very large/strong (300+ mg caffeine)

* caffeine pills - worked because the habit/taste is not a factor, so dosage was under control

What I haven’t tried but might work:

* have fixed times for coffee (e.g. 3 times a day, 8:00 11:00 15:00), if you’re the type of person with a very structured day

* decaf every other cup or similar

Good luck!

Wow, 20-25 cups?! Did you go cold turkey off of that peak or did you taper down? I'm just curious how bad the caffeine withdrawal would be from that level.

I went cold turkey off that, I suddenly had to take a prescription med that raised my heart rate and taking it with any coffee left me barely able to think. I don't get withdrawals with headaches and pain, never have, but the first time I went off the 20-cups-a-day dosage I suddenly realized that I did not in fact have an anxiety condition. (I also realized eating was kind of fun.)

I resumed drinking tea, then coffee, then a lot of coffee, but I've got to say I'm a lot more mindful now, I don't just hang out in front of the computer making pot after pot and such, and I try to get food instead of coffee if I'm out and want something fun to taste.

I went through this myself, and while there is no one-size-fits all solution, what worked for me was this:

- Get rough estimate of how much caffeine intake was typical

- Found a caffeine free-soda that I liked, (or decaf coffee)

- Using info from 1, replace caffeine with Excedrin (or some other caffeine pills), and switch routine to the caffeine free sodas

- Each day, shave a little bit of caffeine off. You'll probably need to buy a pill cutter

It's slow, but I never even got a headache from it. I initially tried just restricting my soda/coffee in take but found that I would drink much more than I intended too without even noticing. The Excedrin allowed me to carefully and easily control my intake.

What's nice about this is one can prepare dosage and pills ahead of time, making it easy to go with it without much hassle

It could be months before you're yourself again and at 100% productivity. I'm afraid there's no magical solution. You should factor in that cost when drinking coffee next time.

Agreed. This is with any artificial or exogenous stimulant or enhancer. What you lose on the swings, you gain on the roundabouts.

I've been through this a few times. I restarted again a year ago after gifts of different coffee presses. These are some approaches that I've tried and have worked for me.

1. Cold turkey - usually after I get sick, then coffee is super acid for me anyway. Headache is only for a day or two, so I just suffer through it.

2. Slowly cutting back to one cup/espresso a day (try reduce by 10%-20% every 2 days). After one cup/espresso a day you can go down to half a cup/espresso a day, when you are at half a cup a day you can take it or leave it.

3. I've also had success using ceylon (black) tea as a caffeine substitute. You can also use green tea. Tea has water based caffeine which is not as intense as coffee's oil based caffeine, but it helps with the headache and energy levels. Tea is really helpful if you are cutting back on coffee.

Good luck, maceurt.

Any source for the water/oil based caffeine info?

Pretty sure it's the same molecule, tea just has a lot less caffeine and often also has l-theanine to counteract some of caffeine's negatives.

I can't find it now. At the time of reading it made sense though - the just was that coffee being oilier, the caffeine takes longer to break down.

I've seen a lot of people suggest decaf. I go through periods where I drink a lot of coffee and when I drink none at all for months, and the only time I've ever felt withdrawal or headaches is weirdly when I've switched to decaf.

Either way, I think it'll be difficult for us to predict how you'll react to cutting out coffee. While there is a lot of solid advice here, I think the best thing you could possibly do is pre-plan the stuff you need to get done in the next few weeks to ensure that any drop in productivity is covered. Either get ahead of it while you're on the coffee, or give yourself an opportunity to rest while you're weening yourself off and catch up later.

The last thing you'll want to do is to do everything "right", and still feel like you're suffering.

Reading the other comments made me think about my withdrawal from coffee. I woke up one day after reading a book about the (detailed) effects of coffee and I stopped drinking. Forever. Used to drink like 3-4 espressos (big cups) per day for years.

I can't say I lost any productivity, or anything, really. It didn't even bother me that much. Slept better, had more energy in general.

Now that I think about it, perhaps the better option is to slowly decrease the amount of coffee you drink.

But I guess what I want to say is that there's at least one person (me) that had no problems ditching coffee altogether one day, so that's an option, too.

I'd tell you to get to tea. I've been drinking around 1 - 2 liters of coffee a day for around 5 years, and when i switched to tea in order to stop the caffeine from f*cking up my sleep cycle, i had around a week of headaches and a slight loss of energy, but after two weeks it went back to normal. I kept on drinking tea for around 2 months after, and now caffeine gives me that tremendous rush again, so i guess i'm fixed ! Also, i'm rather young (22) so this might have speeded up my recovery, but i think you should give it a try !

Try more healthy alternatives:

1. Green Tea

2. Raw cacao powder in water

I can especially recommend cacao as alternative to coffee (see also https://michaellustgarten.com/2014/07/22/kuna-cocoa-the-opti...) .

I gave up a lot of things for a healthy pregnancy including coffee, tea, sugar, chocolates, and processed food. Now, my son is nearly 3 and I haven't missed any of the above.

Not sure if these tips help, but here goes.

- Wake up early in the morning just as the sun comes out. I wake up around 5.30 AM. Enjoy the quiet and meditate (Whichever way you find comfortable - pray, do yoga, or just sit still in the outdoors and soak in the environment or write your thoughts in a journal) 10mins is a good starting point. You can stretch it to half an hour if you enjoy the task.

- Have a large glass of water after you brush. Then in place of your coffee or tea have a glass of milk. Go for a brisk walk.

- Then enjoy making your breakfast. You'll appreciate eating it after.

- Pack up some fresh fruits that you like to snack on at work. Whenever you feel like having coffee, have a fruit or drink water.

- If you feel low or distracted, go bond with a cheery colleague. You will come back with a renewed focus to your work.

- Have your lunch on time. By 1 - 1.30 PM. Include fresh vegetables. They can uplift your mood.

- Go for a walk in the evening as well.

- Have your dinner around 7.30 - 8 PM

- If you have a partner or family or roommates, dinner time is a good time to bond. Share the fun things that happened during the day and also whatever stressed you out.

- Go to sleep around 9 - 9.30 PM. An hour after your dinner.

Dont be too harsh on yourself if you crave the occasional coffee once in a while. Your lifestyle changes should have a higher purpose (for me it was the health of the unborn - the best I can do for him) and it should be fun not an imposition.

In short, change your sleeping and eating habits, and connect with real people to free yourself from unhealthy mood stimulants.

Hope this helps you!

I've been tapering the last 3 days (only drinking green tea) and I already feel WAY better (it's much lower in caffeine than coffee). I'm keeping a log of each day so far:

Day 1 Headaches, nausea, had to take 200mg advil Slept amazingly well (felt better on 7 hours sleep than I usually do on 8.5) 4 cups of green tea (est 120-160mg total caffeine)

Day 2 Barely noticeable headache 3 cups green tea (est 90-120mg caffeine) Felt much calmer and relaxed Face was flushed, not sure if a withdrawal symptom

Day 3 (today) No headache Feeling relaxed and focused Planning to cut down to 2 cups of green tea (estimated 60-80mg caffeine)

From what I've heard, it can take more than a year to be completely free from the symptoms, so I'm in it for the long haul. My goal is to be completely off caffeine by the end of the week. Check out the book Caffeine Blues to get a better understanding of how dangerous caffeine actually is.

I understand you. I used to drink coffee and black/green tea too. It affects badly for our brain neurons. I started doing yoga in the morning and it keeps me in tonus. I suggest you do some exercise when you feel that you need to drink a cup of coffee. Hope it helps you!

IMO L-Theanine is more effective than coffee in terms of focus, though it doesn't keep you awake if that's what you're looking for. It's naturally available in green tea. But there are pills for it, which are really cheap, compared to coffee.

Just wean off by replacing progressively more of your regular coffee with decaf coffee and then keep drinking decaf. You might not even notice that much if you do it over, say a month. 75/25, 50/50, 25/75, 0/100.


Or, wait til you get sick. Quit caffeine cold turkey, you won't notice it over the sickness and by the time you are improving, you will have less symptoms and you will be taking time off anyway due to the sickness.

You say you have noticed productivity drops in the past, but I wonder how long you waited them out? My experience is that caffeine withdrawal is not terribly long, maybe a week of subpar focus, but still able to work.

I cut down to a single coffee in the morning followed by decaff for the rest of the day. I also found a lot of success with herbal/fruit teas. For me it's just about having a hot drink at this point.

This. Plus the ritual.

It's adenosine blocker not inhibitor, so you're producing more adenosine while under caffeine than without, it just doesn't work. That what kicks in after withdrawal. The good news are, it's not going to kill you, so going cold turkey is ok. Of course, you can also reduce your intake gradually. Try switching to decaf for after dinner coffees, this would be the first step.

As somebody who has had about 1 sip of coffee in their entire life, how significant is the effect? I currently don't understand when people say that they need a coffee to 'wake up'.

Does drinking the coffee actually make you feel more awake (as if you had more hours sleep), or does it just increase response times while you still feel tired?

"Feeling tired" is a bit subjective. There are numerous studies indicating that caffeine enhances cognitive function, improves test scores, reaction times, etc.

Personally, yes, I feel less tired after drinking coffee, but seem to get diminished returns after the first half cup.

I stopped cold turkey, better sleep, better diet and exercise helped me deal with it. The headaches go away after a few days, as for muscle pain I don't recall noticing that but I hike and climb a lot so my muscles are often sore.

It has slowly worked back into my diet, now I get caffeine a couple days a week at most and life is better then having it daily.

Mushroom coffee might help your transition. I’m not speaking from experience, I don’t do much caffeine, but I have tried https://us.foursigmatic.com/mushroom/mushroom-coffee and it’s tasty and effective at giving a brain boost.

I went from high doses of caffeine to decaffeinated coffee and tea to drinking more water and not craving coffee or caffeine that much anymore. I also implemented the rule for myself to stop drinking caffeinated drinks after 2PM in order to have the caffeine phased out by bedtime.

I’m doing cold turkey now. Gets easier each time you do it. Takes a week to break the addiction. But: if you are really suffering have a single espresso shot early in the morning but then nothing else for the rest of the day. The sleep quality after stopping caffeine is simply awesome.

Microdosing works for me. I just get one cup of coffee in the morning and take tiny sips from it over the day. That appears to be enough to of a stimulus for my brain to function. Sometimes an espresso on top in the afternoon, but no more than that.

I cut out as much sugar as I could from my diet a while ago, I noticed as a side effect that I didn't need caffeine to kick start me in the mornings. (I am not a huge caffeine user so results may vary).

Taper off the caffeine, cut out the carbs mid-day so you don’t get the post-lunch slump.

I like Alpha-GPC for keeping clear headed. I also need vitamin D supplementation to feel 100%.

Look into underlying health issues and treat those. Some obvious suspects: allergies and respiratory problems.

I used to drink a lot of coffee at times. I hardly touch the stuff right now. I made zero effort to give it up. It's entirely about no longer needing it as a stealth drug to treat allergies and respiratory problems.

My coffee consumption dropped substantially following moving from a city with terrible air quality to one with better air quality than where I had been living.

The fatigue is often the result of burned out adrenal glands -- every jolt of caffeine results in adrenals secreting hormones into your system -- many people go into clinical fatigue without that jolt. One remedy? Standard process Drenamine which is a byproduct of bovine adrenal glands. It may take a few months use, but eventually you will regain your normal energy level without the caffeine.

Don't. You're better off drinking coffee than not. It's good for you!

You will lose productivity, and that is what weekends, vacations, etc. are for.

flexible working times help. I use caffeine to shift my alertness to when I need it and without it that would my biggest problem.

you can also try some light foods and see what boosts you a bit. maybe yogurt or a sugary fruit.

How bad is to drink a single cup (12oz) daily between 9am and 11am?

it's only bad if you have symptoms, but a lot of people feel agitated/irritable even with a cup.

I get the opposite kind of symptom where my principal problem is I can't stop at one cup! have stabilized around 5-6 which is OK for my tolerance level... back when I drank a single cup daily between 7 and 8 am if you'd told me "15 years from now you're going to have frequent anxiety that you could stop if only you could keep yourself from the (free, delicious) coffee at work" I may have reconsidered though.


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