How To Break Free From the Caffeine-to-Cabernet Cycle

Photo: Stocksy/Carolyn Lagattuta
Though "coffee-to-Cabernet" sounds like a hipster hotspot, it's not whimsical, charming, nor (exclusively) Brooklyn-based. You clicked on this article for a reason, which is likely that you are all too familiar with the coffee in the morning, wine at night cycle: You can't wake up without caffeine and you can't unwind without a near-overflowing glass of fermented grape juice.

If you gravitate towards these beverages like clockwork—meaning at the same times daily—you're not alone. Well+Good Council member Robin Berzin, MD, says she sees this pattern all too often with her clients at Parsley Health. "Chronic, poor-quality sleep due to things like not getting enough hours, going to bed too late, anxiety, and looking at screens before bed take a toll over time, and people wake up exhausted," she says. The result: You rely on coffee to fuel your day and a nightcap to counteract its stimulating effects before bed.

Experts In This Article

While both coffee and wine have been shown to provide some health benefits when consumed in moderation, health researcher Max Lugavere points out that it's that "need to have it" feeling that's negative. "We tend to develop codependent relationships with these compounds," he says. "Whereas our relationships with them should be more interdependent. It's like with a significant other—you shouldn't need to be with them, but you should want to be with them and you should be able to enjoy their company in a way that's not destructive."

You rely on coffee to fuel your day and a nightcap to counteract its stimulating effects before bed.

Dr. Berzin walks me through the science behind this two-tiered addiction. "Coffee, a stimulant, triggers catecholamines like epinephrine, norepinephrine, and hormones like cortisol to keep you going," she explains. "These natural chemicals increase blood pressure and blood sugar, as well as heighten awareness and can trigger anxiety."

A lot of people, Lugavere adds, rely on coffee in the morning as well as in the afternoon in an attempt to sustain their energy and combat the feelings of post-lunch grogginess. By the end of the day, this coffee consumption can leave you feeling dehydrated, drained, and on edge. "To compensate, many people turn to alcohol in the evenings, which stimulates GABA [neurotransmitters] in the brain and is a natural depressant," Dr. Berzin explains. As you are likely well aware, this can help to calm your nerves, but it can also disrupt your sleep. The result? Next-day exhaustion which leads to—you guessed it—more caffeine consumption. "Even a glass or two of wine can decrease the number of times you reach deep sleep, leading to more fatigue," she says.

Lugavere posits that if you're just having a cup or two of coffee in the morning and the occasional glass of red wine at night (as in like, twice a week), your body can adjust just fine. However, if you've found yourself trapped in this cycle, read on.

Want to curb your coffee in the morning, wine at night cycle? Below, Dr. Berzin shares her expertise for breaking free of your co-dependent relationship with coffee and alcohol.

1. Get adequate sleep.

First thing's first. You need to be getting enough quality sleep each night, says Dr. Berzin, who swears by these easy tips:

Eat more magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral closely tied to high-quality sleep (as well as muscle function, mood support, digestion, and more), and most Americans are deficient in it. Adding more magnesium-rich foods—like pumpkin seeds, salmon, spinach, and avocado—to your diet is a simple (and delicious) way to help you get more restful sleep. You may also want to consider speaking with a dietitian or physician about adding a magnesium supplement into your bedtime routine, because they may help you fall into a deeper sleep and stay asleep longer.

Be mindful of your bedtime snack routine

Some foods will disrupt your sleep, so it's important to be mindful of what you eat in the hours before bed. Processed foods, spicy foods, and even chocolate are all to be avoided. On the other hand, tart cherries, peanut butter, bananas, cottage cheese, and kiwis can up your sleep quality.

A dietitian breaks down what you need to know about eating before bed in this clip:

Try sleep-friendly tech

Though blue light from your smartphone or computer screen can keep you up, other forms of technology may help you get better zzz's. Sleep tech is the next big thing, and products like smart mattresses and sleep trackers can seriously transform the way you snooze.

Find the best of the best in sleep tech, according to Zoe Weiner, by watching this video:

Sleep in

If you're the kind of person who goes to bed at midnight and then pulls themselves out of bed at 5 a.m. for a run, stop. Exercise is important, but you shouldn't actually skip sleep in order to get it. Instead, try going to bed earlier; or, if that's impossible, organically work physical activity into your normal waking hours.

2. Eat for sustained energy

If you eat a balanced diet (a mix of protein, complex carbs, veggies, and little processed sugar), you shouldn't need to rely on caffeine to keep going—and in turn, are less likely to need wine to chill out. "The number one thing you can do to maintain energy throughout the day is to limit coffee to one serving and avoid eating tons of sugar in the mornings as well as at lunch," Dr. Berzin says. Here, digestible swaps and suggestions to eat healthy all day:


A deliciously energizing morning meal should include healthy fats, protein, and veggies: Think spinach and cheese omelet, overnight oats with berries, or a couple pieces of whole wheat toast with almond butter and bananas. (You can also take your cues from other Well+Good readers.)


Check out these tips for ordering the heartiest, most nutrient-rich salad possible . If you're not so much a salad person, try these three-ingredient lunch recipes instead.

Afternoon snack

Instead of reaching for a sugary snack that could drain your energy, try one of these protein-packed vegan snack recipes or borrow these ideas for snacks that wellness execs keep at their desks.

3. Learn new ways to unwind at night

Dr. Berzin advises her patients to "master other means of finding calm and a positive mood in the evening." She suggests a slew of healthy alternatives to a generous pour—taking a walk, steaming in a sauna, soaking in an Epsom salt bath, participating in a yoga class, cooking a meal with friends, or meditating (which can curb alcohol cravings) as options.

And you'll also want to limit your alcohol consumption to two to three evenings per week, max. Luckily, sober socializing is on the rise, and even college students are opting out of the Solo-cup scene. These festive mocktail recipes may also help see you through the transition away from the coffee to cabernet cycle.

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