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Mental Health

How to Quit Caffeine: One Writer’s Quest

They say that diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but I know better. Whether I’m pulling an all-nighter or need a small pick-me-up after a particularly bad day, without a doubt, caffeine is my BFF of choice. I would even go as far as to say that yes, I am addicted.

Like most college students, I depend on caffeine to get me through the day and sometimes just as frequently, the night as well. Chugging a Diet Coke or munching on a chocolate bar gives us that extra energy boost and can even put us in a better mood (there’s a reason why that Chunky Monkey ice cream makes us feel better after a breakup).

But let’s be honest: as much as we love caffeine, our bodies don’t always feel the same way. According to TeensHealth, caffeine is classified as a drug because “it stimulates the central nervous system, causing increased alertness.” Even if you have a small dose of caffeine, you can still feel its effects for up to six hours. Besides interfering with your sleep cycle, higher dosages can trigger “anxiety, dizziness, headaches and the jitters. People who regularly take in a lot of caffeine soon develop less sensitivity to it. This means they may need more caffeine to achieve the same effects” (TeensHealth). With more than 50-percent of Americans enjoying a cup of coffee each day (CBS News), I decided that I wanted to be one less statistic—well, for as long as I could. This meant forgoing my Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes, daily Diet Cokes and stash of leftover Halloween candy in my room. With my experiment in full force, the results are as follows in my quest to kick my caffeine habit:

Day 1 6:30 a.m: Alarm goes off. I hit the snooze button. 7:00 a.m.: I stumble out of bed and begin to get ready for class in the dark, while my roommate sleeps. Lucky. 9:06 a.m.: Having survived my first class, I’m feeling pretty confident. Coffee-schmoffee. Seriously, who needs it? 10:15 a.m.: My eyes begin to glaze over in my Literary Journalism class. Before I can blink, my head does the whole awkward jerking movement as I start to fall asleep. My professor glances at me from under his eyeglasses. I curse myself for sitting in the front row. 10:32 a.m.: I spend the rest of class doodling in the margins of my notebook trying to stay awake. I glance down and see that I’ve written the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” lyrics about a dozen times. I gotta feeling this is going to be a long day. 12:20 p.m.: I go to the library where I would normally get my Columbian iced coffee, so I go stand in line, and then remember that coffee is a no-go. Instead, I find an empty chair in the library, curl up in the fetal position, pull my hoodie over my head, and take a power snooze for half an hour. 3:00 p.m.: I go to spin class with my friend Kyle, where we sweat it out to the Pussycat Dolls. I leave feeling energized. Yay for endorphins! 7:45 p.m.: I fall asleep face down on my bed doing math homework. Note to self: refrain from doing schoolwork on your bed when your gas tank is running on empty. I almost miss my newspaper meeting, but luckily, a text from my editor sends me flying out of bed. Points for Taylor. 9:30 p.m.: I get back from my meeting and have officially caught my second wind. I contemplate getting a Diet Coke from the mini-fridge, but my roommate guilt trips me by saying “no cheating” as she sips hers from across the room. I glare at her and get a water bottle instead.

Day 2 8:10 a.m.: Having had a few extra hours of sleep, I’m still not feeling as energized as I would like to be. I munch on a granola bar for breakfast on my way to class. The label says that it has six grams of protein. That should give me some energy, right? 11:13 a.m.: I successfully make it through morning classes and head to lunch with a friend. Normally, I would go straight for a Diet Coke from the soda fountain (yes, I’m aware that it’s not even noon yet. Don’t judge me). Instead, I load up on water and actually find that I’m not suffering as much as I thought I’d be. 2:28 p.m.: Head to the gym where I spend 20 minutes on the treadmill and then another 20 minutes on the elliptical. I make eye contact with the hot guy doing chin-ups and become mesmerized by the contraction of his biceps. I convince myself we made a connection. See? I don’t need caffeine to boost my mood. 5:45 p.m.: My energy level is starting to sink a little. Must. Get. Food. 7:18 p.m.: I take a visit to the vending machine and am extremely tempted to get a pack of M&Ms. After several minutes of deliberation, I opt for the Cheez-Its. Not as satisfying as chocolate, but it’s just a sacrifice I’ll have to make for now. 11:36 p.m.: Homework is done and I literally cannot remember the last time I went to bed so early. I have to admit, not drinking a can of Diet Coke at this hour really makes a difference.

Day 3 9:02 a.m.: This morning I pass the coffee machines in the library café and I don’t even give them second glance. We’re making progress. 12:00 a.m.: I’m sitting in Newswriting lab when my professor announces Sudden Death Reporting. This means that everyone has to scramble to find an on-campus news story, report it, get quotes, and come back to the lab to type it up and submit it in less than two hours. 1:05 p.m.: I am running back to lab with my notes from the ROTC sponsored blood drive thinking now would be a great time for a Red Bull. Luckily, adrenaline is on my side today. 2:00 p.m.: News assignment is handed in and I feel like I just ran a marathon. This, my friends, is journalism at its best. 4:34 p.m.: Still running on adrenaline, I decide to focus my energy into getting my take-home midterm done. I even take my laptop to the student study lounge down the hall from my room so I won’t get distracted. 5:50 p.m.: My eyeballs feel like they’re stinging—that’s how tired I’m feeling. 6:36 p.m.: My roommate comes into the lounge and wants to know what I want for dinner. Little does she know, seconds before I was passed out on my computer in a non-caffeinated induced coma. 7:30 p.m.: The wings we called in are delivered to our dorm and we set up a make-shift picnic on our bedroom floor. 7:31 p.m.: I crack. 7:32 p.m.: Diet Coke number one is down. 7:36 p.m.: Make that two.

My conclusion: Okay, so clearly I didn’t make it past three days. I know, I’m weak. But if you ask me, almost 48 hours sans caffeine was longer than I expected, as being caffeine-free is a lot harder than I thought. On the brightside, because I did not have caffeine before bed, I managed to get under the covers earlier and enjoy a longer and deeper sleep. Sure I got tired between classes (and during), but I was able to boost my energy levels by getting enough sleep and making sure to squeeze in workouts when possible. But don’t worry, just because I temporarily gave up Starbucks, doesn’t mean you have to. So what’s the key to monitoring your caffeine intake? Like anything you eat, moderation is best. Experts recommend 200-300 mg of caffeine per day for adults (TeensHealth), but keep in mind that as little as 100 mg can develop into a dependency. For those who want to cut back on caffeine, here are some substitutes:

  • Drink herbal tea
  • Drinking lots of water (preferably up to eight glasses each day)
  • Exercise
  • Eating whole grains
  • Switching from 2-3 meals to 4-5, which will increase your metabolism
  • Take vitamins
  • Cut down on alcohol
  • Get more sleep at night
  • Be sure you’re eating enough protein

(Nursing Online Education Database) While I won’t be repeating this experiment any time soon, I’d like to think that I am definitely going to be more wary of my caffeine intake as I have proved to myself that I can survive with much less. But enough about that, I’ve got a Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha waiting with my name on it.

Sources: Teenshealth.org CBS News Noedb.org (Nursing Online Education Database)

Taylor Trudon (University of Connecticut ’11) is a journalism major originally from East Lyme, Connecticut. She is commentary editor of the student newspaper, The Daily Campus, a blogger for The Huffington Post and is a proud two-time 2009 and 2010 New York Women in Communications scholarship recipient. She has interned at Seventeen and O, The Oprah Magazine. After college, Taylor aspires to pursue a career in magazine journalism while living in New York City. When she's not in her media bubble, she enjoys making homemade guacamole, quoting John Hughes movies and shamelessly reading the Weddings/Celebrations section of The New York Times on Sundays (with coffee, of course).
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