Our society is chronically over-caffeinated and under-slept. And that’s not a coincidence.
As sleep researcher Dr. Matthew Walker points out in an interview with Michael Pollan, “If you plot the rise in Starbucks coffee shops over the past 30 years, then plot the rise in sleep deprivation on that same chart, the lines are very similar.”
For many, being hyped up on hundreds of milligrams of caffeine, only to await a night of restless sleep, has become baseline existence. We’ve been trapped in this vicious cycle for so long we can’t remember a time when caffeine wasn’t a central part of our lives. But there is another way, my friend.
Want to quit coffee and not sure where to start? Try a 30-day coffee detox. Add in the following tips to make the habit stick. It’s helpful to commit to a chunk of time, be it 30, 60 or 90 days, so you can reset your adrenals and get back to your baseline.
Read more: How Quitting Coffee Brought Back My Dreams
Sure, some people like to suffer through growth. These are the masochistic types who refuse to bring an umbrella on a rainy night then complain about getting wet. If this is you, by all means, stop reading now and flail your way through a coffee detox that’s devoid of strategy. But for those of you who prefer a more thoughtful approach, it’s time to sit up straight and take notes.
Tip 1: Support Your Local Sunrise
Getting better sleep will help you feel more alert during the day. This positive spiral will help you quit coffee. How can you improve your sleep? Try getting sunlight in your eyes early in the morning.
WTF? Sunlight to sleep? What's this dude on?
There’s a group of cells in the back of your retina called the melanopsin ganglions. (Picture a gang of lions.) These cells respond to light and trigger the feeling of wakefulness. But this gang of lions doesn’t respond to just any light—oh no. In order to trigger activation, they need blues and yellows—the colors that paint the sky within about an hour of sunrise. If you go outside during this magical time, even for a few minutes, the retinal ganglion cells will send an electrical pulse to a structure just above the roof of your mouth called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. This structure communicates to all of the other organs and tissues of your body that it’s time to WAKE UP! How does that help you sleep? Well, triggering these cells also sets a biological timer, telling your body that in about 16 hours it will be time to get sleepy. This anchors your circadian rhythm.
Try not to miss this critical early morning light, because when the sun gets too high in the sky these blues and yellows disappear and the light enters a circadian—dun, dun, dun—dead-zone.
Dr. Andrew Huberman is a Stanford researcher of neuroscience and ophthalmology. Huberman recently dedicated an episode of his podcast to optimizing sleep and wakefulness. During the podcast, he pointed out that even blind people (provided they still have eyes) have ganglion cells that communicate to the suprachiasmatic nucleus and trigger wakefulness at sunrise. This means it’s not your perception of light, but rather the photon's interaction with your retinal neurons, that trigger wakefulness.
If you look at a screen first thing in the morning it will also trigger this activation, but not nearly as well. Dr. Jamie Zeitzer, a sleep researcher out of Stanford, found that even looking at early morning light through a car windshield is 50 times less effective than viewing it with no obstructions. For optimal wakefulness, go outside first thing in the morning and look at the sky so this activation can happen all at once. Anywhere from two to 10 minutes of direct early morning light will activate these cells.
Tip 2: Rise and Exercise
Exercising early is a powerful lever to quit coffee. If you're feeling sluggish on your 30-day coffee detox, raising your temperature first thing in the morning will induce wakefulness through a healthy spike in cortisol. Although cortisol gets a bad rap, it's necessary for our survival. Acute short-lasting spikes through exercise are healthy. Chronically high levels of cortisol caused by chronic stressors like social media addiction, workaholism and standing in line at TSA then walking around the airport and doing it again just for kicks (why on Earth would you do that?) are just a few activities that will slowly destroy you.
Set your alarm at sunrise, then do a quick workout—even a few minutes of jumping rope will do. After a few days, your brain will build an anticipatory circuit and you’ll start to wake up around this time naturally.
Tip 3: Plunge Your Caffeine Sins
Morning cold plunges can also help you quit coffee.
In those first weary days of your coffee detox, you'll need all the help you can get to feel alert and energized. Ice baths (or cranking your shower down to cold) are also effective ways to induce wakefulness.
“But wait,” you might be thinking, “didn’t you just say that raising your body temp is what wakes you up?” Ah, you’re a quick one, but not quick enough!
Cold plunging has a rebound effect on your body temperature, and after you exit that shivery state of euphoria, your body temperature will begin to climb. Cold plunges also trigger a release of norepinephrine, a powerful neurotransmitter that increases brain function. Dr. Rhonda Patrick, a biochemist and leading researcher in aging, cancer and nutrition, has shown that norepinephrine levels are five times higher in people who regularly cold plunge. So do some deep breathing and let's get those nips hard as ice!
- Wake up at sunrise and go outside for between two and 10 minutes.
- Exercise first thing in the morning.
- Cold plunge or take a cold shower.