Save 17% with an Annual Subscription

Yeah—you might be overdoing it on caffeine

Half of people drink enough caffeine to cause health problems.

Yeah—you might be overdoing it on caffeine

Post summary

  • I recently gave up caffeine and briefly died inside and out—then felt great.
  • Afterward, I lost weight, slept better, had more energy, and was calmer and less irritable.
  • The experience reset my relationship with caffeine and sent me down a rabbit hole of learning more about the effects of caffeine.
  • A significant proportion of people take in a level of caffeine considered excessive, and reducing it can lead to life improvements.
  • You'll learn the downsides of over-caffeination and we'll help you determine if drinking less caffeine could be good for you.


  • The Don't Die event we held over the weekend in Las Vegas was everything I hoped it would be. We had an incredible group of people who gathered in the desert to learn how to—you guessed it—not die. (Get on the waitlist here if you're interested in joining us for the next one.)
  • This post, like all Monday posts, is free and fully accessible to all subscribers.
  • Full access to Wednesday and Friday posts is for Members only. Become a Member below.

Podcast version of this post

Listen to the episode on Spotify.

Listen to the episode on Apple podcasts.

The post

  • Section summary: I quit caffeine cold turkey and experienced many benefits, which led me to read research and speak to experts about caffeine and health.

A handful of years ago, I quit caffeine cold turkey. I went from drinking a lot to none.

The results were like most things that improve our lives: Totally uncomfortable in the short term but beneficial in the long run.

I now nix caffeine for a couple of weeks once a year. Afterwards, I slowly reintroduce caffeine—until it inevitably creeps back up to high levels, and I repeat the process.

The first time I gave up caffeine, the first 24 hours were like a scene from the movie Trainspotting.

Picture a grown man balled up on the couch, sweating in winter, on the cusp of vomiting, head split right in two. I slept for 18 hours my first night off of caffeine. Eighteen hours.

Afterward, a low-grade headache set in and lasted a few days.

But I was also sleeping sounder and longer, and despite a few mornings with a serious coffee craving, I felt better.

I didn’t have as much of an afternoon slump and was less irritable and stressed. Within a few weeks, I’d lost four pounds.

Caffeine can indeed be a great thing. It improves focus, alertness, etc. There's a good reason why tea and coffee are the two of the most popular drinks on earth, and the energy drink market is worth $100 billion.

But you can have too much of a good thing. Your experience with caffeine depends on your biology and how much of it you take in.

Before I decided to give up caffeine, I was drinking upward of three cups of coffee a day (plus a few other caffeinated drinks, like tea and Diet Coke).

But conversations with people much smarter than myself—biochemists, nutritionists, sleep experts, neurologists—led me to believe that I was overdoing it at a rate that was bad for my health, sleep, disposition, and performance.

The dangers of too much caffeine

  • Section summary: Taking in too much caffeine can interfere with sleep, negating any alertness benefits you get from it. Reducing it can lead to weight loss and decreased anxiety.

I thought I might be overdoing caffeine after speaking with Dr. Trevor Kashey, friend of 2% and biochemistry super-genius from The Comfort Crisis. (Contact him if you need nutrition coaching).

He has his new clients—who range from average Janes to Olympians—go caffeine-free for two weeks as part of a larger approach to suss out foods that might be causing indigestion, sleep issues, bloating, or sluggishness. (Coffee is a well-known gastrointestinal irritant.)

Here's how caffeine keeps us alert:

  • It blocks the action of adenosine, a chemical that occurs naturally in the brain and clues the body in to fatigue.
  • Meanwhile, it increases the release of cortisol, a hormone that exacerbates the stress response and can interrupt normal patterns of wakefulness and sleep.

Removing caffeine means sleep naturally improves. Cortisol levels also drop.

Plenty of research has shown that ample sleep makes for a happier, healthier mind and body. According to Kashey, those sleep advantages could outweigh any chemical benefits from caffeine.

Chris Winter, a neurologist and author of The Sleep Solution, told me that better sleep often leads to better eating habits, which was likely why I dropped a few pounds in those early weeks. 

  • For example, one study found that sleep-deprived people ate nearly 600 more calories daily than people who got in a full night’s worth.

When you’re tired, the hunger-inducing hormone ghrelin goes up, while the fullness-signaling hormone leptin goes down, Winter explained. Plus, you have more time to eat.

And if you're eliminating caffeine from sweet coffee drinks or energy drinks, the benefits can be twofold, since you’re cutting a lot of fat and sugar. 

People also often report feeling less anxious after removing caffeine. Caffeine has been implicated in anxiety in various strong studies dating back to the late eighties. The DSM-5, basically the bible for mental health professionals, officially recognizes caffeine-induced anxiety disorder. 

In very rare cases, large amounts of caffeine can even increase the likelihood of having mini-strokes (also called transient ischemic attacks), during which blood flow to your brain is briefly cut off.

Winter, the neurologist, told me, “It’s really weird to see a 21-year-old who’s had lots of subtle vascular strokes over the years, and these tend to be people who were really pounding energy drinks. There is certainly such a thing as too much caffeine.”

The numbers on caffeine

  • Section summary: Most people drink caffeine, and over half the country takes in more than 300 milligrams daily.

We consume a lot of caffeine.

  • Ninety percent of American adults ingest caffeine every day.
  • The average intake is about 300 milligrams or roughly a medium-size coffee.

That's easy to do when a standard 16-ounce Starbucks drip coffee contains 310 milligrams. Meanwhile, a 20-ounce light roast has 475 milligrams.

Then there are energy drinks. A standard, 8-ounce can of Red Bull has about 77 milligrams.

But there's an entirely new breed of energy drinks pushing the boundaries of caffeination. For example, Bang energy drinks have 300 milligrams.

I once had a long drive from Montana to Nevada that ran late into the night.

I stopped at a truck stop somewhere around Blackfoot and purchased a can of Bang. Its flavor was "Rainbow Unicorn," which tastes like bubble gum mixed with marketing dollars.

After drinking it, I couldn't feel my face for an hour and became paranoid that a deer was going to run out into the road, leading me to crash into a ditch at 80 miles an hour and burn up in a giant fireball of vehicle and gasoline.

But I did make it to Nevada faster than ever. So there's that.

All in all, this means that if you’re downing multiple cups of coffee a day (or just one really big coffee) and tossing in some tea, diet soda, etc, you're definitely drinking more than 400 milligrams a day. Maybe even north of 1,000.

Which raises a question ...

What doses of caffeine can lead to problems?

  • Section summary: A large percentage of the population takes in a level of caffeine that research suggests often leads to side effects.

Anything over 400 milligrams a day can bring about side effects like headaches, insomnia, an upset stomach, and anxiety, according to the Mayo Clinic.

  • 14 percent of Americans drink that or more regularly.
  • But sensitivity differs—some people experience adverse effects at 100mg, others can drink 800+ mg a day and be fine.

That's according to Maggie Sweeney, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institute who I spoke with. Your lifestyle and genes influence your response.

When I did the math, I’d been consuming roughly 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams throughout the day and had been for nearly two decades.

Caffeine has a half-life of about six hours, meaning that if you drink 300 milligrams at noon, you will have about 150 milligrams in your system at 6 P.M., about 75 milligrams in your body at midnight, and so on.

This means my body had likely spent almost two decades under the influence. 

Should you give up caffeine?

Kashey has a litmus test to determine if a client is due for a breakup with caffeine.

“Ask someone to remove caffeine and watch the look on their face,” he told me. Keep an eye out for a flash of existential dread.

Sweeney relies on well-known signs of withdrawal, like headaches, fatigue, and irritability, to clue clients into their dependence and decide whether it’s time for a detox.

Two ways to detox

Think you're overdoing it? Here are the two best ways to detox.

Method one: The slow detox

Sweeney suggests gradually weaning yourself off caffeine. Just start mixing decaf into your caffeinated coffee. “If you’re a particularly heavy user, it may take several weeks to gradually reduce your caffeine consumption,” she says. Drinking plenty of water and herbal tea can ease the transition as well. 

Upside: You won't go through the hell I did.

Downside: It takes a long time and requires complicated measuring and mixing of caffeinated and non-caffeinated coffee or tea.

Method two: Cold turkey

Winter described my method—cold turkey—as “unnecessary suffering.” But it felt a lot more practical to me.

Kashey agreed: “Take a shitty weekend with herbal tea and some aspirin,” he says.

Upside: I’m glad I ripped off the Band-Aid and didn’t have to do any caffeine-mixing math. Plus, I saw the results of a caffeine-free life much more quickly. 

Downside: At its worst, this method is like having a 24-hour flu.

Have fun, don't die, and please avoid Unicorn-themed energy drinks at all costs.


Sponsored by GORUCK

When I decided to accept sponsorships for this newsletter, GORUCK was a natural fit. Not only is the company's story included in The Comfort Crisis, but I've been using GORUCK's gear since the brand was founded. Seriously. They've been around ~12 years and I still regularly use a pack of theirs that is 11 years old. Their gear is made in the USA by former Special Forces soldiers. They make my favorite rucking setup: A Rucker 4.0 and Ruck Plate.

**Use discount code EASTER for 10% off**

Sponsored by Momentous

Momentous made me feel good about supplements again. Over 150 professional and collegiate sports teams and the US Military trust their products, thanks to the company’s rigorous science and testing. I don’t have the time or desire to cook perfectly balanced meals that give me all the necessary nutrients and protein I need (let’s face it, few of us do!). So I use their collagen in the morning; Recovery protein during hard workouts; essential multivitamin to cover my bases; creatine because it’s associated with all sorts of great things; and Fuel on my longest endurance workouts on 100+ degree days here in the desert (because Rule 2: Don’t die). And I also love (love!) that Momentous is researching and developing women-specific performance supplements.

**Use discount code EASTER for 15% off.**

Sponsored by Maui Nui Venison

Axis Deer provides the healthiest meat on the planet. That's according to researchers at Utah State, who compared axis deer meat to beef and found that it contains 1 to 64 times more antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. It also contains 53% more protein per calorie than beef. Equally important is that Maui Nui solves ethical considerations around meat. Axis Deer are an invasive species ravaging the Hawaiian island of Maui, and Maui Nui harvests the deer at night in a stress-free way, improving the ecosystem.

My picks: I like it and eat everything from Maui Nui, but the 90/10 Organ Blend is particularly great for people looking to get more micronutrients in their diet, and the Jerky Sticks are my go-to travel snack.

**Use discount code EASTER for 20% off.**