3 steps to reset your caffeine tolerance for superhuman productivity

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Lately, I’ve found myself craving more and more caffeine.

I went from a single espresso shot in the morning to a double shot. I even added another coffee in the afternoon just to finish off the day. This is coming from someone who, for years, resisted the urge to drink any coffee at all. 

To be fair, the pandemic has certainly played a role in my increased coffee consumption. I used to put effort into getting my caffeine, either brewing a pot in the morning or running out to Starbucks and grabbing a cold brew during lunch.

Between commuting, conversing with other employees, and moving around the office, I didn’t give a second cup of coffee much thought. 

Working from home is different. Coffee is always an arms reach away, tugging at my brain all day long. And it feels like the more coffee I drink the more I need to function

This is common for people who drink caffeinated beverages. From coffee and tea to soda and energy drinks, everyone develops some sort of tolerance.

A common misconception is that simply increasing the frequency of your coffee drinking will automatically increase your tolerance.

As Murray Carpenter, author of Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us said, “Researchers call it a partial tolerance. You’re not just going up and up and up” in the amount of caffeine you need to consume. Usually, people will develop a tolerance to caffeine, but they’ll hit a point where they [find] their optimal dose with their tolerance.”

The solution is often to cut off caffeine entirely. However, this doesn’t always have to be the case.

There are three steps you can follow to reignite the productivity-boosting benefits of caffeine without giving up your morning coffee. I am going to focus specifically on coffee because that is where I get 95% of my daily caffeine from. 

Let’s dive in. 

Step 1: Find your coffee sweet spot

Before making any dramatic lifestyle decisions, remember that drinking coffee can be good for you in moderation. A single cup of coffee contains Riboflavin (vitamin B2), Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), Manganese and potassium, Magnesium and niacin (vitamin B3), and more antioxidant activity than green tea. 

The trick is to find how much your body can tolerate, and then living within those consumption guidelines. I recommend physically noting when you drink a product with caffeine and how many milligrams it includes every single day for two weeks.

Start playing around with varying degrees of caffeine within a safe and sensible limit. Write down how you feel on different days next to what you consumed. It may also be beneficial to track your sleep, mood, and physical activity. 

I found that 400 mg is my max. That’s roughly the amount of caffeine in four cups of brewed coffee. Anything more than that and I become jittery, dizzy, and have trouble sleeping. But if I only drink 100mg, I don’t find that there is much of a boost to my energy levels. So, I try and stay within the 200-300 range. Once you have an idea of your consumption habits, you can start safely reducing your caffeine to avoid withdrawal symptoms. 

Step 2: Scale back in layers

When I notice that my body is responding negatively to caffeine, often signaled by drowsiness, headaches, and the inability to focus, I set a plan to scale back. 

I am not a fan of abruptly purging all caffeine from your life at once. Gradually, I will lessen how much caffeine is in my system without eliminating it entirely. I am a cold coffee drinker, so I’ll start by diluting my drinks with water for a week. It can also be helpful to mix half-caffeinated or decaf into your daily mix to supplement your body’s craving with a weaker solution. Once I feel that the initial wave has passed, usually after 5-7 days, I eliminate the second cup. By that point, my body has adjusted and one cup will do the trick. 

The key is timing your caffeine to last throughout the hardest parts of the day. For example, I will drink a cup of coffee around 10 AM when I schedule my most important or challenging task of the day. If I can get through it while riding the wave of caffeine, I don’t have as much of an urge to get another coffee later. 

Step 3: Experiment with coffee alternatives

In a previous article, we covered three alternatives to coffee that no one is talking about. Most people don’t realize just how many other sustainable options exist that have little to no caffeine and can replace a cup of coffee while providing other long-term benefits.

A few options to consider include: 

Omega-3 EPA and DHA: Recognized as fatty acids, omega-3’s are often derived from consuming fish like tuna and salmon, or taken in a pill form. Omega-3’s fall under the nootropics umbrella, a category of compounds, pills, and powders lauded for their potential to enhance focus and productivity.

L-Theanine: Also a nootropic, L-Theanine is an amino acid found in fungi, plants, and green tea. It also increases brain serotonin and dopamine levels, which may improve memory and learning. 

Spirulina: Just a single tablespoon of spirulina is loaded with plant-based protein. It also contains vitamin B1 which helps regulate your body’s thiamin resulting in a more stable maintenance of energy. A supplement like Spirulina can help you hold onto more energy throughout the day. 

I highly recommend reading Beyond Coffee: A Sustainable Guide to Nootropics, Adaptogens, and Mushrooms, which breaks down the safety and effectiveness of dozens of different substances. There are some amazing products out there that I would have never heard of. Plus, the more versed you are on the subject, the easier it is to experiment with increasing degrees of success. 

Ready to start a healthy habit?

It’s not a secret that caffeine and productivity go hand in hand.

If you’re like me and unwilling to give up your coffee entirely, make an effort to control your habits.

It’s as simple as writing down how much caffeine you are drinking, scaling back in layers to consume within your personal limits, and using highly effective and safe alternatives.

Follow this advice and your mind and body will thank you.