“Hey Google—why am I wide awake until 1AM every night?”
“Hey Google—how can I have more energy when I wake up in the morning?”
“Hey Google—why do I need caffeine to feel awake every day?”
The answers to these questions are endless, but if we pan out and look at the big picture, we’ll see a common theme: overstimulation. As a society, we are overworked, overstimulated, and stressed beyond belief. We feel like we can’t keep up, are constantly pushing to meet deadlines, dealing with heavy traffic, and sleeping less than we ever have to date. A lot of us turn to the black nectar of the gods—coffee—or some form of caffeine to feel like we are capable and energetic enough to tackle everyday stressors. But, the reality is if you’re finding yourself asking Google the above questions, caffeine may be making things harder for you.
Let’s think about that phrase for a second: but first, coffee. I would go as far as to say this is an anthem for our culture. Before we can do anything in our day, before conversations or breakfast or even drinking water, we reach for that hot cup of bitter to perk us the heck up. But, what if having caffeine first thing in the morning is actually making us feel worse? Hear me out. Our bodies create a hormone called cortisol for a number of reasons including regulating metabolism, reducing inflammation, controlling blood sugar levels, and managing our fight or flight response. Normally, our cortisol levels are highest in the morning shortly after waking and slowly decrease throughout the day reaching their lowest points late in the evening. Cortisol tells us, “Wake up! It’s time to get going! Here’s your energy boost to start your day!” So, we already possess within us a magical hormone to kickstart our days. However, busy lives and lack of sleep can lead to wacky cortisol levels leaving us with lower energy in the morning and less motivation to get going. Enter: caffeine…and lots of it. Within twenty minutes of caffeine consumption, a person experiences a boost similar to that of a boost in cortisol because caffeine increases our adrenaline just like cortisol. Caffeine also increases cortisol production in our cells making the caffeine boost a double whammy on our stress hormones. With constant stimulation comes dysregulated cortisol production. And with dysregulated cortisol production comes a reliance on stimulants like caffeine to wake us up and get us going. Kind of a vicious cycle, right?
Healthy, normal cortisol levels also play a huge part in our sleep quality. We need our cortisol levels to be lowering at the right time each day in order to fall asleep in a reasonable amount of time and get restorative rest. Within each of us lies a handy circadian clock that tells our brains when to sleep and when to rise, releasing specific hormones like melatonin in the evening that prompts us to go to sleep. However, chronic caffeine-sippers are likely suffering from altered circadian rhythms. Studies have shown that caffeine delays internal clocks by at least forty minutes! Sleep is precious—that’s a lot of time in my book. Studies have also shown that caffeine intake six hours before bedtime disrupts sleep. However, the half-life of caffeine varies widely from person to person and has been shown to be anywhere from four to eleven hours. That means if you have trouble processing and eliminating caffeine, it could stay in your system, disrupting sleep and cortisol patterns even if you stop drinking it before noon.
As for long-term health? Caffeine in small doses can sharpen our brains, however, the same cannot be said for chronic, heavy use due to caffeine’s effect on cortisol. Chronically elevated cortisol levels, like those we see in individuals consuming caffeine regularly and without abandon, may see altered immune responses, central nervous system responsiveness, declarative memory, and more instances of depression.
Are you feeling like there’s just no possible way you could give up that morning java? You’re not alone. Caffeine is widely known for its addictive properties. For some, it’s even the act of making coffee, feeling its warmth, and smelling its wonderful aroma. (I’m starting to want a giant cup just typing this and it’s seven in the evening!) A world treasure loved by cultures across the globe, you’ll find people sipping coffee as part of everyday social situations. How can we even think about kicking coffee when it’s so ingrained in us? We’ve been relying on it for years and even the thought of it makes us want a cup. Think of it this way: it isn’t about eliminating it forever, it’s about finding balance. First, we have to reset, then we can reintroduce. Our nervous systems need a break; we need to REST.
So here we have it: a vicious cycle. We can’t get enough sleep, so we start our morning with a strong cup of coffee loaded with caffeine. After some chronic use, we’re addicted so our bodies are relying on the caffeine boost instead of our natural cortisol boost in the morning and throughout the day. The caffeine is elevating our cortisol levels until way past bedtime and now we can’t sleep again! Anybody else want to pull their hair out thinking about this cycle? Let me reassure you—you can get out of this cycle! And giving up caffeine for a while is the quickest way out.
If you’re relying on caffeine, I want to emphasize the wide range of benefits of eliminating it. First and foremost, you’ll finally know what restorative, restful sleep feels like! Once you’re sleeping better, you’ll wake up with more natural energy. If you’re eating nutrient-dense foods, you’ll likely be able to balance your blood sugar better (because cortisol is so important in our metabolism!) leading to better moods, happier hormones, sustained energy, and faster recovery from your workouts. Sounds pretty amazing, right?
If you’re convinced, (which I’m crossing my fingers for!), let’s talk about how to eliminate it without being miserable through the whole process. Below are some tips to help:
- Hydrate! Drink half your body weight in ounces of water with electrolytes every single day. Caffeine withdrawal can show up as headaches, so arm your body with enough water to help combat this effect. Also, being dehydrated can lead to fatigue and since you’ll already most likely be experiencing fatigue as you wean from caffeine, help yourself as much as possible by hydrating properly. Start your day with sixteen ounces of water instead of the cup of coffee.
- Stay fed! And stay fed with nutrient-dense, whole foods that won’t spike your blood sugars. Fill your plate with all three macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Eat three full meals a day and if you need snacks in between meals, have hard-boiled eggs, nuts, nut butters, beef jerky, and hummus and vegetables on hand. Your body will be doing a lot of adjusting during this process, so give it the energy it needs in the form of whole foods.
- Rest. When your body tells you it’s time to rest, listen to it. I recommend starting the elimination close to the weekend so you have a couple days to rest, sleep when you need to, and recalibrate.
- Replace regular coffee with decaf (definitely be mindful of brands, decaf coffee can be loaded with chemicals) and then move to herbal coffee and herbal tea. You can even mix regular coffee with decaf and taper off caffeine so as to avoid severe withdrawal.
- Head over to the Empirica website to grab our Sleep More Bundle, a thoughtfully curated bundle of beautiful, nourishing supplements targeted specifically for restful, restorative sleep.
We believe in you. Now go crush (without the caffeine)!