Healthy Drinks

I Gave Up Coffee for Kombucha, and the Impact It Had on My Sleep Cycle and Gut Health Was Major

Photo: Stocksy/Aleksandra Jankovic
A lot of people might find it hard to start their day without a cup of joe, but I am not one of those people. Don't get me wrong, coffee is amazing—the smell, the taste, the process of making it—but if I drink it after, say, 11 a.m., it's pretty much a given that I'll be up all night. Problem is, though I'm a fairly energetic person sans stimulants, I can still use a boost from time to time. On a quest to give myself a little extra pep without compromising my quality sleep, I decided to try replacing coffee with kombucha—and my two-week experiment yielded some pretty interesting results.

While there are a handful of caffeinated beverages out there that aren't coffee (green tea, for instance), I ultimately landed on replacing coffee with kombucha because a) I love the flavor, and b) I know it doesn't keep me up all night. Plus, kombucha is great for gut health! I made the swap in March, drinking booch both in the morning and throughout the day.

Here's what happened when I replaced coffee with kombucha

1. The quality of my sleep improved

First, in an effort not to bury the lede, I noticed immediately that the quality of my sleep improved when I swapped kombucha for coffee—even when I would drink booch at 6 p.m. or later. This makes sense, given how the caffeine content in a serving of kombucha compares to the caffeine in coffee. I was sipping GTS Synergy Kombucha, which has four to eight milligrams of caffeine per eight-ounce serving. An eight-ounce cup of coffee on the other hand, typically has about 96 milligrams (which is roughly 16 times the amount of caffeine).

One of the reasons that coffee was keeping me up until the wee hours of the night is that my body likely metabolizes caffeine relatively slowly, says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, a plant-based dietitian and owner of Master the Media in Stamford, CT. According to Gorin, everyone has a unique sensitivity to caffeine as well as a distinct speed of metabolizing (or processing the stimulant in and out of your body), and these rates vary greatly from person to person. "An individual’s caffeine metabolism refers to how quickly their body metabolizes caffeine. You can either be a slow or a fast metabolizer,” she says. Of course, you can also fall somewhere in between.

Slow caffeine metabolizers need less caffeine throughout the day.

Because it takes my body longer to process caffeine, Gorin explains that drinking more of it (in the form of coffee) was keeping me up later at night because my body was still working through the stimulant, says Gorin. “'I’m a fast caffeine metabolizer, which means I can drink coffee and go to bed within a half hour. But if you're a slower metabolizer, that coffee is going to stay in your system for a longer period of time, and that means that you probably need less caffeine throughout the day,” she says.

According to Gorin, the best way to test your own caffeine metabolism is to experiment: Start by weaning yourself off caffeine and observe how you feel as the day progresses, as well as how you sleep at night. As far as my trial run of replacing coffee with kombucha? “I think this was a really great experiment to show your body that, ‘Hey, you might not need four cups of coffee. You might just need that little bit of caffeine,’” says Gorin.

2. My digestive system became way more regular

Another reason I wasn’t the biggest fan of including coffee in my morning beverage line-up: Upon first sip, I had to run to the bathroom. While some people may drink caffeine to keep them on a regular pooping schedule, that’s not exactly a side effect I enjoy; I would much rather have a consistent and healthy number two routine, rather than relying on a specific beverage to dictate my bathroom habits.

To be fair, Gorin says that this could have more to do with the type of coffee I was drinking (usually drip coffee from a coffee shop) more so than the caffeine itself. Perhaps it was too acidic for my stomach, she suggests. Regardless, it's undeniable to say that in replacing coffee with kombucha, my digestive system was more on track: I was pooping twice a day, thank you very much. When I was still relying on caffeine from coffee, my bowel movements were actually pretty irregular.

3. I still felt energized

When I replaced coffee with kombucha, I still felt energetic throughout the day, but I wasn't bouncing from wall to wall (or running to the facilities). This is likely due to my improved sleep cycle as well as the fact that I was side-stepping the caffeine jitters I used to experience. “I think this experiment showed that your body feels a lot better with less caffeine: You're sleeping better and your digestive system is happier. No more bathroom sprints is also a great thing," says Gorin.

I was only supposed to try this experiment for two weeks, but honestly, because I discovered that I can still get the energy I need from kombucha without the sleep and digestive drawbacks I experienced after drinking coffee, I plan to keep riding the booch train indefinitely. Giving up coffee may sound intimidating, sure, but you know how the saying goes: You never know until you try.

Wondering if kombucha is even good for you? Check out this video to get another dietitian's take.

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