It’s 3:00 p.m. on a Wednesday. You’re overloaded at work, and it feels like you haven’t had a chance to catch your breath all day. So you reach for your third cup of coffee and feel that instant rush to your system. In a matter of hours, though, you’re feeling sluggish again. That is, until later, when that late afternoon cup of coffee suddenly leaves you wide-eyed and restless in bed.

Sound familiar? This energy crisis isn’t a new phenomenon. In a study between 2010 and 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than 10 percent of men and 15 percent of women reported feeling tired or exhausted most days of the week.

Even with the cup (or five) of joe, it’s no secret that Americans are running on empty; it’s a major health issue. But what if you found out that there are plenty of decaffeinated ways to wake up feeling more refreshed, and they can help you stay that way throughout the day?

Breaking the Bonds of Caffeine

In 1994, researchers established that people can be addicted to caffeine, much like they can be to other substances like cigarettes and alcohol. If you drink a cup or more of a caffeinated beverage each day, it’s probably hard to imagine life without it. The good news is it’s entirely possible to break away from the side effects of caffeine withdrawal, such as headaches, fatigue, and mental fogginess, so long as you know the right strategies.

The Cleveland Clinic recommends implementing some of these tactics to cut back on caffeine safely with as mild side effects as possible:

• Start slow. The feeling many of us get when we’re running late and don’t get a chance to grab that first cup of coffee—cue the severe headache—is what you’ll likely experience if you cut out caffeine cold turkey.
• Gradually swap out caffeinated beverages. Replace drinks such as coffee and energy drinks with other energizing alternatives. For example, coconut water is full of electrolytes, such as potassium, and is naturally low in calories and sugar—making it a great choice to keep you hydrated and alert.
• Ease into decaf. Replacing your cup of choice with decaf a few times a week can help you avoid severe withdrawal symptoms and eventually may allow you to make it through the day without any coffee at all.

Navigating the Natural-Energy World 
Technically speaking, caffeine is a naturally occurring substance. It can be found in more than sixty plants, the most common of which produce coffee beans, tea leaves, and cacao pods. But just because it’s natural does not mean that it’s OK to consume in excess. Anything with properties as addictive as caffeine needs to be handled with caution, and that’s why improving your energy levels without it is so important.

Sweat it out.

There is perhaps no better way to lighten your mood and boost your energy than through exercising. When you engage in physical activity, your brain releases endorphins—feel-good chemicals that can relieve stress. Physical exertion also helps circulate oxygen throughout the body, which can naturally improve your energy levels. According to research from the University of Georgia, as little as twenty minutes of daily physical activity a few days per week can result in increased energy and less fatigue. The next time you’re feeling sluggish, try going for a brisk walk or jog, engaging in some low-impact aerobics, or dancing around your kitchen if you have to—you’ll surely feel more energized.

Find your sleep balance.

Remember the storybook character Goldilocks, who was trying to find a bed to sleep in that was just right? You can consider your own sleep habits in the same way. There is, in fact, the potential to get too much sleep, just as you can suffer from a lack of sleep. If you’re sleeping for what seems like an adequate amount of time but are waking up feeling groggy, you might be getting too much. Try going to bed a little later, and see how you feel in the morning. If you are sleeping soundly the entire night, you can try adding time back in short intervals, but if less sleep actually leaves you feeling more awake, this is probably a sign that you were resting a little too long.

Eat slow-release sugars.

It’s tempting to down a quick bowl of sugary cereal in the morning when you’re on the go. But the problem with that type of cereal is that its high glycemic index means that it gives your blood a quick jolt of glucose, which fades quickly. Instead, stick to foods with a low glycemic index, meaning foods that release glucose slowly, including nuts, high-fiber fruits like apples and raspberries, vegetables like sweet potatoes, and whole grain oats. These types of food not only keep you full for longer but also provide you with lasting energy to power through the whole day, not just your commute.

Hydrate your body.

Exhaustion is one of the first signs of dehydration, and roughly 77 percent of working adults say they don’t drink enough water throughout the day. If you’re feeling tired or weak, think about how much water you’ve consumed recently. If you think you may be slacking in the hydration department, try bringing a reusable water bottle with you when you leave the house. Many brands have markers on the bottle for how many ounces you are drinking, which can be helpful in setting goals for yourself. The general consensus is that you should be drinking at least 8 eight-ounce glasses of water per day.

Feeling the Effects

About 90 percent of Americans consume some form of caffeine every day. It’s no secret that a reliance on coffee and other caffeinated beverages to wake us up has reached an all-time high. What was once reserved for breakfast time is now available 24/7: in vending machines, at drive-throughs, and the like. Caffeine can be consumed in excess almost anywhere, anytime.

But if your goal is to find a healthier alternative to caffeine, you’re certainly not limited to the options above. There are many tactics you can employ to increase mental sharpness and help you feel alert that extend far beyond what caffeine can do for you. When you find the method (or combination of methods) that works, you’ll start to notice a change in your mind and body—and will officially be able to join the
caffeine-free club.

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