My week without caffeine - “I found it almost impossible to function”
PUBLISHED: 09:51 19 April 2018 | UPDATED: 09:14 20 April 2018
According to an online study by Research Without Boarders, we East Anglians are the second biggest coffee drinkers in the UK, second only to residents in the South West.
On average, caffeine addicts from our region spend £9.27 a time on tea and coffee – compared to the £9.62 spent by those in the South West.
Given those striking facts and figures, I decided, as a self-confessed caffeine addict, that I would buck the East Anglian trend and go a week without any caffeine, monitoring the effects as I went.
I usually have between six and eight cups of tea or coffee a day, and am definitely reliant on it to get me up in the mornings.
I monitored my habits in the week before the trial, and became aware of how much caffeine I usually consumed in a day.
A study by the Mayo Clinic in 2017 concluded that adults should drink no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day - equivalent to about four cups of tea or coffee.
My maths showed that a 12 ounce cup of coffee (about 568 millilitres) contains about 100mg of caffeine. So if I drink a median seven cups of coffee each day, this amounts to 700mg of caffeine, 300mg more than my recommended daily allowance.
First, a bit of background on my habit: I usually drink two cups of tea before leaving the house in the morning, and drink caffeine up until around 10pm, sometimes later.
Quitting tea and coffee and going ‘cold turkey’, after years of it being part of my daily routine, was difficult. Some people suggested that instead of completely cutting it out for the week I should slowly wean myself off, but I decided to completely cut it out so I could see the side effects.
I fully expected to be cranky and tired, but found my symptoms a lot more intense. On the first day of my abstinence I found it almost impossible to function; when I woke up I didn’t know what to do with myself.
Usually I pull myself out of bed and the first thing I do is go downstairs and switch the kettle on. By the time I had arrived at work I felt awful, and could barely open my eyes.
As the day went by I felt progressively worse, and by the end of the day, I had a severe headache, and felt quite dizzy. Once I had researched the side effects, I discovered that these were just some of the mild symptoms that would occur due to the withdrawal. Other symptoms can include difficulty concentrating, fatigue and being irritable, all of which I experienced over the week. I had gone from being alert and awake, to lethargic and groggy, and very irritable.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, caffeine has no nutritional value to the body and is used by most people to stay alert. Although it cannot replace sleep, it can temporarily make us feel more alert by blocking sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain and increasing adrenaline production. I would say that this is the main reason I consume it.
Reports also show that consumption of caffeine can lead to lack of sleep, which is something that I do experience daily. Caffeine suppresses melatonin, which is one key way that it can disrupt a normal sleep-wake-cycle. After being made aware of the effects that the stimulant can have on sleep, I noticed that when I stopped drinking caffeine, I slept remarkably well. This was one of the main positives of an otherwise testing experience.
Overall, the week without caffeine was difficult. I found everyone to be irritating, and my attention span was very short. I had regular headaches at the start of the week and felt quite unwell. I found myself reaching for something to drink whilst sat at my desk that wasn’t caffeinated. Whilst decaf tea did help fill the hole where a steaming cup of fully-caffeinated tea would be, psychologically I knew it wasn’t the same.
However, on the plus side, by the end of the week – and once I had gone through the worst of the withdrawal symptoms - I felt perkier. Waking up in the morning wasn’t that much of a struggle, and I felt more refreshed and well rested than before. On the whole I have decided that although I won’t be removing caffeine from my daily routine, I will definitely be cutting down on my consumption, and replacing my evening cup of coffee with a peppermint tea. The reduction in caffeine from my daily routine only seems reasonable. Not only will I be doing my body a favour, in terms of sleep, I will also be saving a lot of money. The average cup of tea from a coffee shop is around £1.50 - £2. I could be saving myself up to £14 a day, which could equates to nearly £100 a week, a handy saving by anyone’s standards.