Cutting out caffeine

Diet and Nutrition

5 March 2021

Cutting out all caffeine consumption after 2pm may seem like a tall order, but we hope you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the positive benefits of skipping your afternoon cuppa, like better sleep, more energy and less stress.

If you’re thinking about making a pledge to consume less caffeine, or have already, our experts have put together some useful answers to help. 

Frequently asked questions

Why should I cut out caffeine from 2pm, and not earlier or later?

2pm is a good starting point because it takes most people about six hours to metabolise and get rid of their last dose of caffeine (by going to the toilet).[1] Taking into account how much you usually have, a 2pm curfew should mean most people are free from caffeine by bedtime. However, everyone’s metabolism is slightly different so if you are still finding it hard to go to sleep, you could start your curfew earlier.

I work night shifts and usually drink coffee to keep me awake. How many hours before I go to bed should I cut out caffeine?

Shift work is challenging as you are working against your natural biological clock. In order to maximise your sleep when you finish your shift, you should aim to have your last cup of coffee at least six hours before you go to bed.[2]

How soon will I feel the benefits of a caffeine curfew?

Everyone’s different, but most individuals start to feel the benefit after about one week.

Which drinks contain caffeine?

It’s often hard to tell whether a product contains caffeine and how much. Small amounts are unlikely to be listed on food labels so look for ingredients like coffee beans, cacao, or green tea. Many teas, chocolates and sweets, and over-the-counter medicines contain caffeine and even decaf coffee contains small amounts (about the same as you’d find in a hot chocolate).[3]

Drinks that contain caffeine:

  • Coffee
  • Mochas
  • Lattes
  • Black tea
  • Iced tea
  • Many energy drinks, including some fizzy drinks
  • Green tea
  • Cola Lower levels - but still contain caffeine
  • Decaffeinated coffee
  • Decaffeinated black tea

Which foods contain caffeine?

Foods that can (though not always) contain caffeine include:

  • Chocolate
  • Energy mints
  • Ice cream
  • Chewing gum

Others to watch out for:

  • Some medication, including some painkillers. It’s always worth checking with your GP or pharmacist if you’re not sure.[4]

How can I avoid the ‘afternoon slump’ without caffeine?

If you find yourself feeling sluggish, our Clinical Lead for Mental Health Services, Dr Mark Winwood has put together a list of 9 pick-me-ups that are caffeine-free.

Are there withdrawal symptoms of cutting back caffeine and, if so, how long do they last?

Caffeine withdrawal symptoms include headache and fatigue – the length of time someone will experience these symptoms depends on the individual and also level of usage. An average consumer of caffeine would ordinarily experience withdrawal symptoms that can last between two to nine days.[5]

What should I do if I get headaches or fatigue when cutting down my caffeine intake?

These types of withdrawal symptoms are very common and entirely natural during the withdrawal period from caffeine and shouldn’t last for more than two to nine days. Most people tend to find that their symptoms improve after two to three, although we have found that for people who previously had a high caffeine intake the withdrawal symptoms can last a little longer.[6]

If you have some over the counter painkillers you can take to help your headache then it is usually sensible to do so as it should help to relieve this.[7]

Taking frequent naps is also helpful to combat the sleepiness. And you could try taking a brisk walk to re-energise. It’s important to stay hydrated as dehydration is known to increase both the pain and drowsiness associated with caffeine withdrawal so sipping herb teas and water for example should also help.

I have small children and rely on tea and coffee to keep my energy levels up – what can I do?

After cutting down on caffeine your energy levels should remain normal but not stimulated by caffeine effects. However, it can be useful to think about other ways of improving and maintaining a healthy energy level that doesn’t require the use of caffeine.

Eating a well balanced diet consisting of protein, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and pulses - and reducing any refined or simple carbohydrates, such as white bread, pasta, rice and sugar should provide all the essential nutrients for good health and help to boost your energy.[8]

With young children it’s also very likely your sleep is being affected which may well leave you feeling tired when you are starting your day so thinking about your current sleeping pattern and looking to see if there is a way of introducing a short rest period for yourself or getting to bed slightly earlier could also help.

If you are hoping to reduce your caffeine intake then stopping slowly is probably the most sensible thing to do – we usually recommend starting by reducing your intake by one cup a day. You can pace it in a way that suits you best, so you may like to reduce by one cup a day for three days then two cups a day for three days, or you may prefer to do this over a period of weeks reducing by an extra cup a week until you have stopped. This is also thought to help reduce any withdrawal effects you may experience and can help your body adjust more gradually to managing without the stimulation caffeine provides.

Further reading

9 pick-me-ups that are caffeine-free – AXA Health

Benefits of a good night’s sleep – AXA Health

Dehydration – are you at risk – AXA Health

References

[1] Digby 2017, Sleeping? learn how long caffeine stays in your system. (Accessed 5 March 2021)

[2] Pembrey 2018, Working Night Shifts. (Accessed 5 March 2021) 

[3],[4] Sleep.org, Foods with caffeine. (Accessed 5 March 2021)

[5],[6] Gotter 2018, When does caffeine withdrawal stop. (Accessed 5 March 2021)

[7] Watson 2019, Caffiene withdrawal headache; why it happens and what you can do. (Accessed 5 March 2021) 

[8] Forth 2021, The importance of eating a healthy balanced diet. (Accessed 5 March 2021)

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