You might think trying to kick coffee—or at least drinking less coffee—is a tougher task than scaling Everest. After all, coffee isn’t just a drink that gives many of us a much-needed morning boost. It’s also a genuine cultural moment, whether you’re sipping some coffee in a Middle Eastern cafe, enjoying an espresso in Italy, or grabbing a tall double-caf soy nonfat latte on any corner in any American city.
“Besides the fact that it tastes and smells good, coffee plays an important social role in our lives,” says Joan Salge Blake, a clinical associate professor of nutrition at Boston University. “There’s a lot going on besides the caffeine that makes people want to drink it. If you’re meeting with someone after 5 p.m., it’s usually for drinks, but before that, it’s coffee. It’s how we do business, relax, socialize.”
But it’s easy to become enamored of caffeine and its ability to jolt us awake and get us through the day with the energy needed to accomplish often superhuman amounts of work. While a dependence on caffeine can be problematic (e.g., sleep problems, headaches), coffee has been proven to benefit your health in several notable ways.
“There are some healthy things about coffee—polyphenols, antioxidants that can be quite good for you,” Salge Blake says. “It’s been shown that moderate consumers of coffee could lower their risk of Type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and Parkinson’s, among other diseases.”
So perhaps the instinct to give up coffee completely isn’t quite right. Instead, you may want to consider how to give up caffeine. It’s fairly straightforward, even if it’s not always easy. Follow these three steps to quit caffeine without quitting coffee altogether.
Cycle off the Caffeine Slowly
When decaffeinated coffee hit the scene about a century ago, it was a dreadful concoction, Salge Blake says. Today, it’s as good as its “regular” counterpart, and decaf carries with it many of the same health-boosting properties as caffeinated coffee.
The best way to switch from regular to decaf coffee is to cycle off the caffeine gradually. “Start with 75 percent caffeinated and 25 percent decaf, and stick with that for a week,” Salge Blake recommends. “This will prevent you from developing headaches and some of the other physical and mental side effects that occur when people quit abruptly.”
After the first week, Salge Blake says you can reduce your caffeine intake further with a 50-50 caf-decaf mix. The next week, move to 25 percent caffeinated, 75 percent decaf. Your body should then be ready for you to quit caffeine completely. (Just make sure you don’t disrupt this plan by drinking other caffeinated beverages, like soda or certain teas, during this period.)
Feed Your Brain
So you’re off caffeine, but you’re struggling to get going in the morning. Remember the old saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? It’s true.
“Good food does the same thing to your brain that caffeine does,” Salge Blake says. “If you get up in the morning and don’t eat breakfast—or if you spend the morning eating junk—you’re going to reach for something caffeinated by noon.”
That, in turn, can disrupt you throughout the rest of the day and into the night, causing you to repeat this cycle of bad eating and exhaustion the next day.
Break the cycle with some high-quality carbohydrates, Salge Blake suggests. “That’s what your brain loves the most—grains, fruits and veggies.” Start your day with healthy foods and snacks and keep feeding your body this way, especially if you start to drag.
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
For all the brain food you eat over the course of a day, jumpstarting your morning really begins the night before.
“Sleep hygiene is the idea that we’re setting ourselves up for consistent, high-quality sleep every night,” Salge Blake says. “Not many people do it. They think they can’t afford it because their waking lives demand more time, but they’ll find their productivity improve if they give their bodies and minds the sleep they need.”
Eight hours of sleep is the mark you should shoot for every night. Start going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time each day, and say “goodnight” to your electronics about an hour before you plan to hit the hay. The blue light emitted by smartphones and other digital devices is a major sleep quality disruptor. If you plan to use your phone as an alarm, put it in a drawer near the bed.