So you’ve decided to give up caffeine—good for you (and godspeed). There are a ton of reasons why people give up coffee and other forms of caffeine, whether it’s to help with anxiety symptoms or to stop feeling such a crash in the afternoon. But whatever your reason, there’s no doubt that the first few days of caffeine withdrawal can be R-O-U-G-H. (Hello, caffeine headache, lethargy, and crankiness.)
But now if you’re left wondering how to stay awake without caffeine, don’t worry—it’s totally possible. We talked to nutrition and sleep experts to nab their best tips for staying alert and awake during the day when coffee is just not an option for you. No selling your soul required!
1. Prioritize eating for energy
Eat a healthy, balanced meal, recommends Amy Shapiro, RD, founder and director of New York City-based Real Nutrition. “If you go long without food, you’re going to get tired,” she says. She suggests reaching for a snack or meal every three to four hours, making sure that you include a mix of complex carbs, lean protein, and a healthy fat—say, a salad with chicken, avocado, and vegetables, or a quinoa bowl with roasted veggies and salmon. (You can find some other afternoon snack ideas here.) “This will balance your blood sugar and keep your energy up,” she adds.
2. Sniff on some citrus
“There’s some evidence that citrus—such as eating an orange or having some lemon in your water—can help energize you,” says Rebecca Robbins, M.S., Ph.D., of the Center for Healthful Behavior Change at NYU School of Medicine and co-author of Sleep for Success!. “When I need a pick-me-up, I often use orange-scented essential oils,” Shapiro adds.
3. Or reach for some ginger
“It increases energy production and circulation while reducing inflammation,” says Brooklyn-based registered dietitian Maya Feller, RD. Try this ginger tea recipe when you’re looking for a caffeine-free afternoon sip.
4. Get moving
It’s an oldie but a goodie because it works: “Getting your blood flowing will increase your energy levels, stat,” Shapiro says. Walking around your office, walking to fill your water bottle, visiting a friend’s office, or even just taking a quick jaunt around the block are all quick, easy ways to beat that notorious 3 p.m. slump.
5. Drink up (water, that is)
A telltale sign of dehydration is fatigue, says Shapiro. Whichever way you take your water—plain, sparkling, with lemon or lime—works. Time to refill your water bottle! (And if that’s a task, you might want to try this hydration app to keep you on track.)
6. Crunch on something
If your job mainly involves staring unblinkingly at a computer screen for hours on end, it’s easy to fall into a fog, which is why chef and dietitian Michele Sidorenkov, RDN, recommends throwing a crunchy snack into your tote every morning like an apple or a handful of almonds. Two reasons: Crunchy things “engage [your] auditory senses, and the more loud and abrupt the sound, the more you are engaging those senses,” Sidorenkov says. Second: If caffeine has been your main source of fuel until recently, you’ll need to find new ways to perk up, and “the more dense and hardy the crunchy food item, the more you’ll help fuel your body for the next few hours,” Sidorenkov says.
7. Get a change of perspective
“I’m not a coffee drinker, so the first thing I do after I meditate each morning is flip up into a handstand to get going sans caffeine,” yoga instructor Danielle Diamond says. “All that extra blood flow to the brain has a major energizing effect on the mind, plus it generates prana, or ‘life force’ in the body.” If you haven’t done a handstand since kindergarten, Diamond recommends bridge pose instead.
8. Practice good sleep hygiene when you go to bed
For most adults, that means getting at least seven hours of restful sleep per night. Additionally, try to maintain a consistent bedtime when possible—that means no going to bed at 9 p.m. on Monday then not hitting the sheets until 2 a.m. on Tuesday. “We call that a yo-yo sleep cycle, and it will throw your body out of sync with its environment,” Dr. Robbins explains. Prioritizing sleep and maintaining a consistent schedule “does so many favors for [you] if you can maintain it,” she adds. Most importantly, your body will be more likely to understand when it should be awake and when it should be asleep, giving you more consistent, balanced energy levels.
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