Pocket worthyStories to fuel your mind

I Gave up Caffeine for a Month and This Is What Happened

I told my colleague I was giving up caffeine for a month. “You’re making a terrible mistake,” he said.

The Telegraph

Read when you’ve got time to spare.

Hand holding a full cup of coffee against an orange background

Mykola Sosiukin/Getty Images

I told my (not so supportive) colleague I was giving up caffeine for a month. “Coffee is wonderful. You’re making a terrible mistake,” he said.

I’d been thinking about it for a while after a friend went caffeine-free and, in her words, “stopped being so ratty and shouty towards the kids.” After a busy year, I had been feeling the same way: slightly jittery and utterly exhausted.  

Like most busy working parents, I was using coffee as a sticking plaster for an overly hectic life. When one of my young children woke me up at the crack of dawn, putting the kettle on to make a cup of tea, while it was still dark outside, felt reassuring and gave me a little jolt of energy.

Grabbing a creamy, strong flat white mid morning gave me another. A second or third throughout the day left me firing on all cylinders. I seemed to get better, and more energised, with each cup. 

But then I’d get worse. By 9pm I felt exhausted-to-my-bones tired, but unable to wind down properly, which I started to suspect was down to the 4pm coffees I was treating myself to (pushing my ‘no coffee after lunch’ rule to the limit). 

But the trouble was (is), I love coffee. I love the smell of it. I love the sound of it being made. I love that blissful, frothy first sip and the hit of energy that quickly follows.

Prior to this experiment, I loved having a takeaway latte in one hand and a good book in the other on a train journey, and would feel slightly panicked if there wasn’t time to grab a coffee before my train arrived. I loved the ritual of chatting to friends over coffee, or having one with a colleague as a natural break in a busy working day. 

But despite the many health benefits of coffee, there’s also a tipping point and I was beginning to realise I had reached mine and needed a break. 

It seems I’m not alone. More than a million Britons switched to decaf coffee and tea in 2019, according to a report from Mintel. And according to Kantar Worldpanel, a consumer research firm, in the same year UK shoppers spent 20 per cent more on instant decaf compared to the previous two years. 

Which is exactly what I did for one month. I stocked up on herbal teas, decaf tea (I found Clipper Fairtrade teabags the best tasting), began ordering decaf lattes... and then waited to see what happened. 

For the first week I had withdrawal headaches that went from pounding (days one and two) to niggling and low-level (days three to seven), before eventually disappearing altogether. I also felt very tired, but without coffee to (artificially) power me through the day, I simply went to bed earlier. And I slept more soundly when I did. 

I noticed a difference in my skin too: whether it was the absence of caffeine or the extra sleep, I don’t know, but my skin looked smoother and clearer. My eye bags softened and lightened. This could also be due to the fact my evening sugar cravings disappeared around the same time as my headaches. 

Which is no surprise given a study that found caffeine makes us crave sugary food. Researchers, writing in the Journal of Food Science, found that caffeine altered their study participant’s perceived sense of sweetness, causing them to crave something sweet after a cup of coffee, unlike the decaf drinkers who had no such cravings. Cutting out caffeine meant I inadvertently cut back on sugar too. 

Best of all, I felt calmer and a lot less jittery. That slightly wired, rushed feeling, that I previously put down to being a working parent with young children, melted away. In week three of my caffeine-free month, my young daughters accidentally spilled blue glittery slime (if you have school aged children you’ll be familiar with the horrors of slime) all over the sofa. The usual rush of anger didn’t come – or at least it wasn’t as intense – and I simply cleaned it up, feeling strangely calm about the whole thing. 

One month on and I felt calmer, clearer-skinned and more rested. Oh, and richer too (three flat whites a day at £2.95 a pop take their toll). So I stayed off caffeine for good? Not quite. Like I said, I love coffee – I don't want a life without it. However, what my month away from it taught me was that I was doing it all wrong. 

So the herbal and decaf teabags have stayed (I realise it’s the morning ritual of making tea I enjoy, not the caffeine). I’ve tightened up my ‘no caffeine after lunch’ rule, which has improved my sleep.

And I only drink good coffee. I don’t have a decent coffee maker at home, so unless I’m passing somewhere that sells good coffee, I won’t bother having it and often go all weekend without caffeine. 

Which makes that first creamy sip on a Monday morning all the more blissful… 

How was it? Save stories you love and never lose them.

Logo for The Telegraph

This post originally appeared on The Telegraph and was published June 24, 2020. This article is republished here with permission.