What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Drinking Caffeine

Skip your daily cup of coffee and you might think you came down with the flu. Caffeine withdrawal was officially added to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a substance-related and addictive disorder. Symptoms include headaches, fatigue, and even nausea. And they manifest just 12 to 24 hours after you stop your intake. 

Caffeine addiction is real, and society is our enabler. You can find caffeinated drinks at work, on practically every street in major cities, and in school vending machines. Disposable pods or timed coffee makers will easily get you your morning dose while you’re still drowsy. And baristas find new and tasty ways to get us our fix. In addition, scientific studies continue to demonstrate health benefits to caffeine, giving us the justification we need to stay hooked. 

Despite the wide availability of caffeine, the pain of quitting, and the potential health perks of consuming it, you still might want to cut back. After years of drinking at least two cups of black coffee every day, I quit cold turkey when I found out I was pregnant with my first daughter. I started drinking a small amount again after the first trimester, but the break changed my relationship with caffeine.

For the record: it is safe for pregnant women to consume a reasonable amount of caffeine. “Current guidelines from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggest women who are pregnant and capable of pregnancy limit their caffeine intake to less than 200 milligrams per day,” Dr. Audrey Gaskins, a professor in epidemiology at Emory University, told me. “This doesn’t necessarily mean women have to give up caffeine, but if they are high consumers, they may want to reduce their intake in the preconception and early pregnancy period,” she continued.

I didn’t have to give up coffee completely in early pregnancy, but I still felt a new sense of control knowing I could start my morning without it. I slept better (the pregnancy fatigue might have helped with that, too). And after detoxing for a few months, I didn’t need as much caffeine to feel the benefits when I started drinking it again.

If you’re considering giving up caffeine, here’s what you should know. 

7 Things that Happen When You Quit Caffeine

You’ll Experience Withdrawal

Cutting caffeine from your life can quickly make you feel bad physically and emotionally. Symptoms of this withdrawal, now officially recognized in the DSM as a mental disorder, include headache, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, upset stomach, and mood changes. Luckily, they should dissipate soon—usually within two days or two weeks depending on how much you typically drink. Once they’re gone, you’ll no longer be dependent on caffeine to simply maintain a baseline of energy.  

Your Menstrual Cycle Could Change

Science suggests that caffeine can impact menstrual cycles. Dr. Sunni Mumford, a researcher at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, told me that her research shows that caffeine is associated with changes in reproductive hormones during the cycle. “Caffeine was associated with a reduced risk of having a cycle in which no egg is produced, known as anovulation,” she explained. Thus, consuming caffeine could impact fertility for the better, since having an egg produced in a given menstrual cycle is required for a pregnancy to occur. As one of Mumford’s studies concluded, caffeine intake may be associated with “improved menstrual cycle function in healthy premenopausal women.” 

On the other hand, an older study found that caffeine consumption might make menstrual cycles shorter. In that study, women who consumed over 300 milligrams of caffeine per day had a doubled risk for short cycle length. The authors noted that shorter cycles could be linked to issues like earlier menopause or decreased bone density. (Not to mention, you’ll go through more pads and tampons since your periods will be closer together.)

As Gaskins pointed out to me, there have been mixed findings regarding caffeine’s impact on reproductive hormones, ovulation, and menstrual cycle function. According to Gaskins, sticking to a reasonable amount of caffeine should keep your cycle regular: “Taken together, there is not strong evidence that caffeine intake, within moderation, has appreciable impacts on menstrual cycle length or regularity.” 

You Could Reduce Breast Pain

While caffeine is not scientifically linked to breast cysts or breast cancer, anecdotally women report a reduction in breast tenderness when they cut back on caffeine. If your breasts feel tender, you might consider it. 

You’ll Feel Less Focused

Even after the withdrawal symptoms go away, you might not feel like yourself. Once you quit caffeine, you will no longer benefit from some of its positive effects, including a better sense of focus. As a stimulant, caffeine helps us concentrate. 

You Won’t Be as Jittery

Caffeine can increase your heart rate and the amount of adrenaline circulating in your body. This could make you jittery when you drink too much. After you give it up, you might feel a sense of calm and more control. 

You Will Get Better Sleep

As a drug, coffee is relatively harmless and might actually be beneficial to our health. But one big and clear downside: how it impacts the quality of our sleep. A recent study found that sugary caffeinated drinks could impact the quality of sleep for young women specifically. And research shows that decreasing your caffeine intake can decrease early morning wakings and increase “slow-wave” quality sleep. Just one day of abstaining from caffeine could improve your sleep, according to another study. Considering how crucial sleep is to our overall well being, this is a big reason to stop consuming caffeine.  

You Could Have Less Heartburn

For some, coffee can cause reflux. If you’re having painful heartburn it could be time to kick the habit. 

Caffeine in Moderation Is Likely NBD  

Gaskin, whose work focuses much on diet and fertility, told me that while caffeine is one of the most studied dietary factors as a potential disruptor to women’s health, the results of these studies are often inconsistent and don’t suggest a huge issue. And when it comes to concerns like reproductive health and fertility, Gaskin fully believes that other aspects of a woman’s diet—like consumption of low-mercury seafood and organic fruits and veggies—are much more important. If you do hit up your local cafe for some healthy food, it’s really up to you: decaf or regular?

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