Caffeine free after 40 years

I’ve been a coffee drinker since my college years, and never considered it a problem until a few years ago. My husband and I were staying at my mother’s home, and every day was a struggle to stay awake. We attributed it to the high temperature in Mom’s apartment, familiar family stories, and bright outdoor lights filtering through the curtains as we slept.

One morning, we were running errands and I noticed a Starbucks.

“That looks good. Can we stop?”

My husband laughed. “I was just thinking the same thing.”

We ordered our coffees and took a seat.

“That tastes so good!” I said, rubbing my forehead. “For some reason, I’ve been getting the worst headaches.”

“Me too!” said my husband.

By the time we finished our coffee, both of our headaches had disappeared. We looked at one another and laughed again. Problem solved!

When we got back to Mom’s, I slipped the question into conversation. “That coffee in the plastic container. Is that regular? Or is it decaf?”

“I only drink decaf,” she said.

After that, a Starbucks run became part of our daily ritual. And after experiencing the intensity of caffeine-withdrawal headaches, giving up coffee – ever – seemed out of the question. 

My consumption has gone up and down through the years, but lately I’ve returned to drinking four-to-eight cups of coffee a day. Recently I’ve had trouble with indigestion and difficulty regulating my body temperature. And I’m beginning to feel as though I’m having caffeine rebound. I’ll drink two cups of coffee to start my day, feel alert for a while, then suddenly feel sleepy again. So it’s more coffee, another period of activity, and another urge to sleep. The episodes repeat until five hours before bed, when I reluctantly force myself to stop.

The USDA reports that an ounce of coffee contains 11.8 mg of caffeine, so I normally consume 236-472 mg per day. In comparison, a regular-strength Jet-Alert caffeine tablet contains 100 mg. A Vivarin tablet contains 200 mg.

I didn’t think about quitting until I saw a YouTube video that said one could wean away from caffeine – pain-free – by reducing the amount of one’s coffee mixture by ten percent each day.

I went on Google and found other sites offering the same recommendation. And now I’ve made the decision to quit.

I’ll keep a diary of the results. [Shared below]

Day 1 – Eleven teaspoons of coffee normally go into the pot. Today I added nine, and used decaf black tea for the additional two teaspoons. I could taste the added tea, but quickly adapted to the taste. I was ready for work fifteen minutes early. That never happens! There was no mid-afternoon crash, although I had a slight headache. (My bad, since I reduced the amount of coffee by 18% instead of 10%.)

Day 2 – Eight teaspoons of coffee plus three teaspoons of Teeccino herbal coffee-substitute. I liked the taste of the herbal coffee better than that of the decaf black tea, but it made my mouth feel a bit dry. The tea felt more soothing. Last night, I slept much better. In fact, I woke up after 6 1/2 hours of sleep feeling refreshed. I stayed in bed and gradually fell back asleep – got at least another hour. Was ready for work ten minutes early. At mid-day, I became very sleepy. I gave in and took a nap – but it didn’t turn into a 2-3 hour slumber fest as it has in the past. I felt reinvigorated after an hour. And I was alert the rest of the day.

Day 3 – Seven teaspoons of coffee, plus four teaspoons of coffee-substitute. Another great night of sleep. I woke up once when the train whistle blew loudly, but fell right back to sleep. No mid-day crash today. In fact, after teaching my classes and eating my main meal of the day, I ran out to Fort Milton to ride my Xooter scooter. Did around 3 miles, came home, and then wrote a letter to a pen pal. Still feel very alert and engaged with life. Today I did have the slightest of headaches, which disappeared with the exercise and change of focus. I’m so excited about giving up caffeine, I’m ready to throw out the tin of cocoa powder in the cupboard. Getting rid of the chocolate bar with orange-rind is going to be a little harder. I’ve been watching YouTube videos about other people who have given up caffeine except…. most of them didn’t. All but one went back to caffeine in one form or another. So I’ll have to look to myself for inspiration.

Day 4 – Six teaspoons of coffee, plus five teaspoons of coffee-substitute. Another night of sound sleep. I got up this morning at 3:45 AM, left the house at 6 AM, drove to a park two hours away, hiked four miles with a full-sized backpack, then drove two miles home. Once I got home, I did have a craving for coffee, and drank some of the above blend, but it didn’t relieve my weariness. I also ate a ton of healthy food. As I ate, I played Sudoku on my iPad. I couldn’t seem to finish a puzzle without excessive mistakes, which was a little frustrating. I broke my 19-game win streak. After eating, I still felt tired (but maybe that is actually the normal aftermath to an active morning). I chilled for an hour with the animals and then started to get my second wind. Spent an hour and a half reading a book in a second language (Spanish). Now it’s time to get the animals ready for bed and clean up the kitchen. Absolutely no headache today.

Day 6 – Four teaspoons of coffee, plus seven teaspoons of coffee-substitute. Slept soundly, and got up at 2:30 AM. I taught my English classes, and then put away the dishes. After reloading the dishwasher, I had a nutritious main meal – a piece of toast, an egg, a salad, and a banana. Then I wrote a long letter to a pen pal. At 1:30 in the afternoon, I feel alert and engaged with life. Happy. No headache whatsoever. I’m feeling calmer than usual.

Day 7 – Three teaspoons of coffee, plus eight teaspoons of coffee-substitute. Tried the sleep-tracking option on my fitness watch. It said I got four hours of deep-sleep. I continue feeling happier and calmer. I had the best practice session on my guitar! I was able to play more easily.

Day 8 – Two teaspoons of coffee, plus nine teaspoons of herbal coffee-substitute. Slept soundly again, but my sleep-tracker didn’t work. I still feel no brain-fog; only increased concentration and alertness. The day seems a little longer than before – not necessarily in a bad way. I feel less need or desire to jump from one activity or idea to another. I am able to concentrate better, and yesterday I completed several little tasks that I’ve procrastinated on – including replacing the battery in my watch and repairing two pairs of sunglasses. And I’m thinking, how much of my life was under the control of this supposedly innocuous drug? I wish I’d quit a long time ago – decades ago. [After writing this entry, I decided to take a 2-hour nap, which explains the restless sleep in the following entry.]

Day 9 – One teaspoon of coffee, plus ten teaspoons of coffee-substitute. Slept so-so last night. Had a lot of dreams. I also woke up several times thinking I heard someone moving around the house. I suspect these were simply moments of livid dreaming. Sometimes when I’m waking, mind and body aren’t quite in sync, but this isn’t due to caffeine or lack thereof. Another productive day. In the early afternoon I did feel somewhat sleepy, but no more so than while drinking coffee regularly. And I was able to literally walk the grogginess off. The indigestion and temperature regulation problems have completely resolved. I’m thinking more clearly, and everything seems easier. Caffeine has a half-life of roughly five hours, so at 9:00 tonight, I’ll be completely caffeine-free!

Two days later, I’m still feeling great. I’m still drinking the Teeccino coffee-substitute (chicory/vanilla), but find the taste more pleasant when I reduce the brew-amount by half. I don’t feel sleepy or tired, but I do feel calmer overall. I’ve been having an unusual craving for chocolate, but I think that’s the caffeine addiction attempting one last ploy. I don’t see myself going back.

UPDATE 4 months later: I decided that I still need a bit of caffeine before teaching my 5:00-6:00 AM classes, or when I need to make a long drive home after hiking. However, once I’d eliminated caffeine from my system, I no longer required such heavy doses. I now use a pill-cutter to break a 200-mg Vivarin tablet into quarters. I take 50 mg of caffeine before work and, on hiking days, take another 50 mg before driving home.

Photo by Scholty1970 at Pixabay

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Published by cafsamsel

Carol Fullerton-Samsel is a nearly-native Floridian who lives with her husband of 25 years and three rescue animals. She has a passion for day-hiking and nature, and also enjoys writing. Be sure to visit the TenPaths YouTube channel, which is still in its infancy.

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