What I Learned During My Coffee Detox

The last time I did a serious coffee detox was in 1997. I was long overdue. I got down to a single espresso by August 22nd. In the end, I went 14 days without coffee. During this time, I did still drank tea. I returned to coffee on Saturday. Here is what I learned during the coffee detox.

First some background. I began tracking my headaches and coffee intake on March 24th. Below is a chart showing my daily coffee intake. The red line is a 3 day moving average.

Sinus Headaches

I think I have enough data for me to know the relationship between my intake of coffee and my late night sinus headaches. I want to specify the “me” aspect in this post. What I learned applies to “me” and maybe not others. If you research this topic online you will see caffeine listed as both a possible cause and a potential cure for sinus headaches. As a fan of coffee, I wanted to discover exactly what role coffee was playing in my sinus headaches.

Throughout the past 6 months I consumed varying degrees of coffee from high to low to none. For me there is no clear connection between coffee intake and headache frequency. However, I still have some questions regarding headache intensity. I suspect that headache intensity *may* decrease the earlier in the day that the coffee is consumed. It isn’t that caffeine makes the headache more intense, it is probably more likely that less caffeine results in deeper sleep, which has the side benefit of reducing headache intensity. I will be constructing a new test soon that explores this possibility.

Can coffee cure a sinus headache? Absolutely. But so can patience. One of the reasons I did not go 30 Days is because on the mornings when I had sinus headaches they would persist for much longer when I didn’t have coffee. Instead of knocking out a headache in 30 minutes with an espresso, I would suffer for hours sometimes without coffee. Tea did little to speed up recovery.

Season and Location

It is much easier to forgo espresso in the summer. Once the temperature drops in Seattle and the sun disappears, it is time for coffee. I should have started my detox earlier in the year. Next year I will.

Welcome back old buddy!

Cortisol and Stubborn Fat Loss

Besides eliminating dairy, another thing elite fitness professionals state is that coffee spikes your cortisol levels and prevents stubborn fat loss. Maybe that is true and maybe I need a longer test to prove the merit of that wisdom, but I experienced no body composition changes throughout the detox or reduction period. Again I am already lean, your mileage may vary. So either I have no adrenal fatigue or I have so much that I need a much longer detox period. My caffeine intake has been on a downward trend for a decade now and my energy level is much better now.


I have always had problems taking naps. No matter how tired I get, I can’t seem to fall asleep during the day. I fall asleep super fast at night, but napping has always been a challenge. Well, during the coffee detox I was able to easily nap. Probably the best thing to come out of this experiment was figuring this out. I had been experimenting with white noise generators with poor results.

Coffee as a Stressor?

I think we all understand how day in and day out coffee consumption can be a stressor. That is why we do these detox protocols. I did a very slow gradual detox so I would experience no physical withdrawal symptoms. Not that the pain is intense, I just find it distracting. However, I learned that about 10 days into the detox my mood started to turn for the worse. Lack of coffee was stressing me out. That first espresso has a calming effect that I missed.

Future Strategies

Soon I’m going to start my next test. I’ll still track my coffee intake, but I’m also going to track when I had my last coffee. Combined with a sleep quality score – my goal is to dial in an optimal range for coffee consumption that gives me both great sleep at night and a great mood during the day. My guess is the optimal range will look very similar to the nutritional and fitness waves I described in the post The Paleo/HIT Cyclical Approach to Fitness and Nutrition. Coffee intake will be inversely correlated with hours of sunlight (more espresso in the winter) combined with random variations during any given week including a “fasting” day with no intake.

PS – Every time I post something about headaches, I get a wave of comments giving advice for ideas that I’ve already addressed numerous times in other posts. My headaches are sinus. They are not related to caffeine withdrawal. I have no symptoms that would make one think this was a medical emergency. At the point I give up, I will seek a health professional. But I still have a few more ideas and every test I do tells me more about myself. Although the idea of taking control of ones’ health frightens many, I enjoy the process.


Add yours

  1. A 30 day experimental window might be sufficient for foodstuffs. It is definitely insufficient for addictive substances.

    Still, good for you. Two weeks shows commitment… as well as the underlying problem (headaches or not).

  2. @Txomin – Excellent point. Come spring, I plan to do a deeper coffee/caffeine restriction.

  3. I found this article when trying to find information on caffeine and sinus headaches, and although it’s been a couple years I thought I’d share my experience, as so far I’ve found it unique: I get terrible sinus headaches related to coffee, but it isn’t about the AMOUNT of caffeine that I intake, it’s all about the source. Specifically, too much drip or keurig coffee, over a few days, gives me staggering headaches, while espresso and cold brew do not.

    Your mileage may vary.

  4. @Daniel – I exclusively drank espresso during the time of this post. Switching to brewed coffee did not change my frequency.

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