Giving Up Caffeine: A Survival Guide

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Life in the fast lane can often demand frequent doses of caffeine. The burst of alertness and energy you get from a cup of coffee or an energy drink is something many of us just can’t live without – least of all when we’ve worked that overtime shift, or been up late finishing a project.

These days it’s also extremely easy and convenient to get a caffeine fix at any time of the day – corner coffee shops are open from morning until night, while convenience stores and chain coffee shops stock an astounding variety of coffee. Singapore’s cafe culture means people socialise over coffee and snacks at all hours.

Although it’s mostly consumed through coffee, the popularity of caffeine is in part because it comes in many forms, ranging from green and black tea to sodas like Coca-Cola. Caffeine is also found in certain types of medication, such as flu tablets, to provide relief to those who are under the weather.

Of all caffeinated beverages, energy drinks contain the highest amount at 27 to 164 milligrams for a 230 millilitre can. They are also packed with sugar, though, which can worsen lethargy due to crashes in blood sugar levels.

Brewed coffee comes in second at 95 to 165mg of caffeine. Green and black teas contain the least amount, at 25 to 29mg caffeine. Most people require about 200mg of caffeine to stay alert for four to five hours.

Although caffeine greases the wheels of our hectic lives, it can also have some unintended effects on our body and mind. According to Sleep Education, individuals who have consumed too much caffeine report a range of symptoms, including:

  • Increased anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Acid reflux, indigestion and heartburn (due to the acidic nature of coffee)
  • Heart palpitations
  • Tired and dull skin (linked to fewer hours of sleep)

The constant availability of caffeine means that, for many of us, our bodies have built up a tolerance for it. Withdrawal symptoms during a caffeine break include:

  • Moodiness
  • Lethargy
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Joint pains

If you are suffering from withdrawal or overconsumption symptoms frequently, perhaps it’s time to consider giving up or at least reducing your caffeine consumption. Caffeine might not be a narcotic drug, but its ability to create addiction-like behaviours can have undesired consequences over the long term.

The benefits of giving up caffeine

Removing caffeine from one’s life can have positive outcomes, as the body will reset itself to function without it. Those who have given up caffeine have reported:

  • Higher energy levels throughout the day
  • Better quality sleep
  • Healthier looking skin
  • Feeling less dehydrated
  • Fewer stomach upsets
  • Better moods

Coffee is the most popular caffeinated beverage in the world. So if you have a coffee to go every day, quitting caffeine means you will also save a substantial amount of money.

This applies especially to those who love their European-style coffees. Such coffee can cost SG$5 to $8 for a cup. Having it twice a day over a month can cost about $300 to $480. Multiply that by 12 months, and you are looking at spending nearly $6,000 a year on coffee. Imagine what else you could do with that money!

Giving up coffee also means generating less waste. Many people are unaware that takeaway cups are not recyclable due to the thin layer of plastic lining the cups. It is more cost-effective to dispose of the cups than to recycle them. That means that unless you’re carrying your own takeaway cup with you at all times, your daily coffee habit is contributing to landfills.

How to survive caffeine withdrawal

The biggest concern for those keen to give up caffeine is turning into a cranky, unlikeable person. Nobody wants to damage their relationships with their colleagues, so it’s imperative you remain professional in your caffeine break.

But reducing or giving up caffeine altogether is very much possible. There are a few methods: quitting slowly by sticking to one cup of coffee a day in the mornings and only on workdays to break daily habits; weaning the body off caffeine throughout the day; and going on long caffeine breaks by quitting cold turkey, temporarily or indefinitely.

Personally, I have only attempted periodic breaks from caffeine as I enjoy a cup of coffee occasionally. On those days that I am avoiding caffeine, I found that doing the following helps me maintain some sanity:

  • Drinking herbal or floral tea with ginger first thing in the morning. This gives you a refreshing start to the day.
  • Eating a low glycemic index and high-fibre breakfast, such as oatmeal and wholewheat sandwiches, helps to maintain energy levels through the day. This helps you avoid reaching for a coffee for a mid-day boost.
  • Sleeping at a set time and getting seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. That also means staying off mobile devices two hours before bedtime to wind down. Better sleep quality comes naturally from not consuming caffeine, so this should be easy to do.
  • Frequent exercise. Yoga is particularly helpful for relaxation.
  • Sometimes lethargy can come from sitting at a desk for long periods. Go for a short stroll outside to keep your mind focused.
  • Have light lunches so you won’t have a post-meal food coma.

People who have sensitive stomachs, who are prone to restlessness or anxiety, or who have trouble sleeping most nights should avoid caffeine altogether.

But for those who love powering through the day on caffeine, there is no harm reducing consumption or avoiding it now and then to give your body the break it needs.

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