Why I Quit Coffee Cold Turkey

This is the 2020 updated edition. The original was published here in 2014 as has been read over 300,000 times.  

Seems like everyone I know regularly drinks coffee or another form of caffeine. Since everyone is doing it, it must be ok, right?

Maybe not…

In this guide to beating your caffeine dependency, you will find:

  • Common side effects of caffeine
  • Why I quit coffee cold turkey
  • Day by day analysis of the first 7 days without caffeine (coffee withdrawal timeline)
  • Benefits of 21 days without caffeine
  • How to best handle caffeine withdrawal symptoms
  • Frequently asked questions
  • Alternatives to coffee

Like many people with demanding jobs I used caffeine as a crutch. Also, I truly love the taste of coffee. Nothing better than waking up early on a Saturday, turning on some good tunes, cooking a nice breakfast and then enjoying a home brewed cup of perfection.

For about 5-6 years I’ve was drinking between 300-500mg of caffeine per day (standard 8oz coffee has ~100mg). My typical workday would be a medium cold press from Caribou Coffee (or home brewed) and then a small coffee/tea in the afternoon to ‘keep productivity high.’

Common side affects of drinking too much coffee

  • Stomach ulcers
  • Heartburn
  • Insomnia
  • Poor digestion
  • Decreased bone density
  • Increased muscle tension
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
typical day

Why did I quit coffee?

I had trouble sleeping and I carried on a lot  of tension in my middle upper back and neck – I was curious if caffeine could be my culprit.

Coffee is an expensive habit – especially if you’re buying Starbucks every day. A single $3 coffee per day costs you $1,095 per year. I can think of a few ways I’d rather spend that money…

My wife Anne and I were about to take off on a 15 month trip around the world. Who knows if I could find coffee every day? I’m no fun before my morning coffee, hopefully quitting coffee will help! (you’re welcome Anne!)

In the meantime, a friend of mine works a stressful job and the amount of coffee he has been drinking was starting to seriously mess with his health. His doctor said he either needed to quit his job or quit coffee immediately. Yikes.

Lastly, I think like an engineer and need to constantly be tinkering with something. I love experiments especially revolving around my health and productivity.

Why quit now?

Before quitting my enterprise software sales job at Oracle, I decided to take a 2-week vacation and burn all my remaining vacation days! Since I didn’t need to be productive at work for 2 weeks, I figured that would be a perfect time to ditch caffeine.

Vacation timing worked out so I can spend time with my family for the holidays before heading to Asia for some extended travel. This takes me to Minnesota, Colorado and Arizona. Let’s call it the TOUR DE FAMILY.

As a bonus – I always have a little extra energy while traveling and getting out my daily routine should help me beat the brown devil!

Cold Turkey or slowly wean off?

Some people say it’s better to slowly cut your caffeine consumption down each week until you are fully weaned off – easier on your body and fewer headaches. I’ve tried the “slowly weening off coffee” method and it worked great for a few days… until I had a bad nights sleep before a long day at work… bring on the extra caffeine to compensate, ugh.

Also – I’m impatient by nature and get WAY more excited by big huge goals. So I decided it was all or nothing.

The next question becomes how long does it take to get off coffee. Am I going to be suffering for a month? Am I cut out for this?

My Experience: The first 7 days after quitting cold turkey

Here’s my daily journal. Obviously each person’s quitting coffee timeline will vary based on a bunch of variables. However, the journal is helpful if you have ever asked yourself any of these questions…

  • How long does it take to detox from coffee?
  • How bad are the quitting coffee side effects?
  • Is my headache after quitting coffee normal?

Day 0: Typical day

Medium cold press from Caribou (my standard morning fix), hot cacao drink, and an afternoon coffee to keep me going. You can consider this baseline, your mileage may vary.

Estimated Caffeine: 450mg
Hours of sleep: 8hrs

Day 1: Here goes nothing 

Foggy, mild headache started by about 3:00PM. I was irritable, unable to focus, slow moving, and had trouble making routine decisions effectively. Went to bed 3 hours earlier than normal (9:30PM) and didn’t fall asleep until around 4:00AM.  Sleep was restless, uncomfortable, half asleep the whole time. The more I thought about it, the less I could relax. Very frustrating.

Woke up at 730AM for a full day of work on day 2.

Estimated Caffeine: 0mg
Hours of sleep: 3.5hrs

Day 2: Feeling withdrawal affects, annoying, but not unbearable

Woke up for work feeling pretty sluggish but not any worse than a mild hangover. I was completely sober the night before.

Thinking to myself – is this really it? Not so bad…!! I can do this! Little did I know, that seductive she-devil had much more in store for me. I was being punished for almost 6 years of daily coffee.

Work was a constant battle to stay awake and push through the pain. I couldn’t believe how one minute I felt fine, and the next my head nodded down right in the middle of an email. WTF?! Then the fun part, left work at 4PM to embark on an 8.5hr travel day from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Keystone, Colorado. Train, Plane, Shuttle van. Headaches and randomly dozing off the whole way.  Woke up in the middle of the night sweating profusely, Get these covers off me. Then woke up a couple hours after freezing! Where did I put those covers!? 600mg of Ibuprofen at 1PM and 8PM to take the edge off the headache.

Estimated Caffeine: 10mg (small piece of dark chocolate)
Estimated Sleep: 3hrs in about 7 tiny chunks

Day 3: Everywhere I look, people are enjoying coffee. But not me.

Worst day. Getting out of bed was a chore, wanted to nap constantly, headaches in full force. 600mg of ibuprofen every 5hrs barely kept the headache manageable. Very irritable, impatient, mind was dull. Luckily I was on the go all day long to keep me from randomly falling asleep. Any time I sat down I was done for. Everywhere I looked it seemed as though people were enjoying a hot cup of java, I wanted to quit and put this headache behind me!

My family and I stopped at a local coffee shop in Keystone before heading to lunch; A place I would have drooled over just one week earlier. Everyone ordered their coffee drinks, and then I asked “do you have anything without caffeine? Ugh. The whole day I was off, moody, run down, and mentally dull.

Estimated Caffeine: 20mg (Medium piece of dark chocolate)
Estimated sleep: 5hrs

Coffee side affects, Caffeine Withdrawal, quit coffee cold turkey
me on day 3

Day 4: Glorious workout saves the day? 

Woke up feeling slightly more alert and energetic than day 3. After breakfast I crashed hard and battled between taking a nap or going to workout. Luckily found myself heading to the gym with my dad for a little Christmas workout. Mom stayed back and did hotel room yoga. Workout started out rocky and almost quit after a gnarly headache set in.

Turns out working out was the best decision I’d made since starting this experiment. Well, my endorphin’s helped a fair amount but they only lasted an hour or so. Then it was back to hell. After the workout we took a drive to the top of the continental divide and really got a taste of mother nature. Wow is all I can say. Next was a Christmas feast. After I got a couple beers in me I felt a little better but only temporary.

Estimated Caffeine: 0mg
Estimated sleep: 5hrs

Day 5: Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? 

Woke up feeling decent thanks to chugging copious amounts of water the night before. Had another nice breakfast, packed up, said good-bye to my wonderful parents. Christmas in Colorado was a success.

On to the most dreaded task of the trip… finalizing my Indian Visa and mailing it off. I’ve already spent 25+ hours dealing with this crap and now I have to finish it without caffeine?! What a struggle. Luckily Fedex has workstations with sound proof walls so the staff cannot hear me cussing and sputtering out sentence fragments. 3 hours later I’m out of there.

No chance I could have attempted writing until today (day 5). Not easy but I wasn’t easily distracted which happens often. Could this be a sign of whats to come? Wrapped up the night at a lovely Sushi Restaurant with my little sister.

Estimated Caffeine: 0mg
Estimated sleep: 7.5hrs

Day 6: Definitely on the upswing

Woke up feeling refreshed. Every morning seems to be easier than the last. Took a hot vinyasa yoga class in Frisco, CO. Felt great when I was finished, but breathing was a challenge at 10,000 feet.  Couldn’t believe all the energy I had! I was even tired at normal times (10-11PM). Strange for me since I haven’t been tired before 12AM in years. I could get used to this!

Estimated Caffeine: 0mg
Estimated sleep: 5hrs

Day 7: More in tune with my body

Didn’t sleep well the night before which I am blaming myself for forgetting to take melatonin before bed. Still woke up feeling alright. After breakfast and herbal tea, went to the gym for some weight training and a sauna.

Started to notice my body telling me it was hungry – a big change from “eating at meal times” as was the norm while consuming excessive caffeine.  Despite taking pride in my health, I wasn’t taking good care of my body.

Estimated Caffeine: 0mg
Estimated sleep: 5hrs


21 Days Without Coffee

I figured 3 weeks was a reasonable time to do a checkin. Here is what I noticed…

  • No headaches
  • No tension in my upper middle back
  • Improved concentration
  • Better sleep and feel more alert in the morning
  • More regular and healthy bowel movements
  • Tired at more normal times (can fall asleep by 11PM instead of 1AM)
  • Increased awareness of the messages my body is sending – example: I’m hungry at normal times and I notice increased effects of food choices (both healthy and un-healthy). Crazy to think I didn’t notice the extreme affects of caffeine affecting my stomach and hunger schedule for so long.
  • More patient/relaxed when decision making
Coffee side affects, Caffeine Withdrawal, quit coffee cold turkey, how I feel without coffee
21-days without caffeine!


How to Survive Caffeine Withdrawal

Although the first 5 days were not fun, it wasn’t unbearable. I sincerely wish I would’ve conquered this sooner.

Without caffeine I actually feel more alert during the day, especially in the morning. I haven’t experienced the dreaded “2PM crash” either. I can also hear what my body is telling me without caffeine interfering – this has led to an increase in the desire to eat healthy as I’m more sensitive to both good and bad foods.

  • Drink tons of water
  • Warm lemon water first thing in the morning (half a lemon)
  • Ibprofen 2x daily during days 2-5 (600mg took the edge off significantly)
  • Chewable Melatonin 40 minutes before desired bedtime (helps you sleep by resetting your circadian rhythm
  • Positive attitude – it won’t be fun, you will have coffee detox symptoms, and you may notice your normal upbeat personality dulled for the first 5 days. Don’t worry it will pass and you will feel better than ever soon
  • Tell your friends/family – let them know what you’re going with, they will take it easier on you and support your challenge.
  • Eat lots of fruit! Apples and oranges were perfect
  • Meditate before bed
  • Workout – you won’t feel like it, but after the first 10mins of warming up, you’ll hit auto pilot and feel infinitely better when you’re done
  • If possible, pick a start date where your routine is already going to be mixed up a bit (for example: planned days off work, camping trip, vacation)


Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long to detox from coffee? Most people see detox symptom relief starting around days 3-4
  • How long does it take to quit coffee? First 3 days coming off coffee is the hardest. Stay mentally tough through the beginning and then it gets much easier!
  • Is there a standard quitting coffee timeline? Every body is unique and thus breaking caffeine will be different for everyone. That being said, most people who report their experience to me share a similar timeline as I posted above.
  • What are the side effects of quitting coffee? Everyone reacts differently, however most people have trouble sleeping, feel dull and irritable, hard to focus, and sometimes sluggish bowels.
  • Not sure I can quit cold turkey, how long does it take to wean off coffee? I have never successfully weaned off coffee slowly. It starts out great but at the first sign of “needing energy” I jump right back on the train. This is why I decided cold turkey was the way for me.

Alternatives to Coffee

I’m proud to say that it’s been over 6 years since I quit coffee! During this time, I got very into tea. I’ve found that tea fulfills the same desire that coffee did, however, tea works better for me for a couple reasons…

  • Tea is not acidic like coffee – no stomach issues
  • Tea has much less caffeine than coffee – no sleep problems and no muscle tension!

Here are my favorite brands & types of tea

Like everything in my life, when I get interested in something I go ALL IN. Tea is no different. I’ve tried 100s of varieties all over the world. Sometimes I have regular gong fu tea ceremonies at my house and other times I just drink tea as a performance enhancer in the morning.

Here are some great options:

  • Numi Organic Puerh Tea – My go to tea for daily consumption. Moderate caffeine. Mild and earthy taste.
  • Yerba Mate – A South American tea traditional consumed out of gourd. Don’t worry you don’t need a gourd. Moderate caffeine. Grassy and earthy taste. Protip: try a cold steep to remove any bitterness.
  • Organic Raw Cacao from Terrasoul – that’s right, I’m talking about the base ingredient for chocolate! Raw Cacao powder is a powerful antioxidant, stimulant, and quite bitter. The Aztec’s loved Cacao so much they called it the “food of the gods.” Perfect in smoothies, or you can prepare it like hot chocolate with a little honey or agave to sweeten it up.
  • Matcha green tea – a high end type of green tea that comes in a finely ground powder form. The tea dissolves into your hot water which increases the health benefits because you ingest the tea. Full flavor. Also works great in smoothies. I’m just getting into Matcha, don’t have a favorite brand yet.

*Tea recommendations? Email me at Brandon.Quittem@gmail.com or say hello on twitter

About the author

Brandon Quittem

Brandon Quittem is an entrepreneur, writer, speaker, and Bitcoiner. He's been writing online since 2013 and his articles have been read by over 2 million people.

The goal of this website is to synthesize complex information and make learning fun.

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