Caffeine is an integral part of daily life for many. Food and beverage manufacturers are capitalizing on our consumption beyond daily cups of coffee, putting the stimulant in everyday foods like donuts and bottled beverages, including water. However, too much caffeine may affect our health, leading the Caffeine Awareness Alliance to designate March as National Caffeine Awareness Month. You’re in good company if you use caffeine as a regular way to start your day, but here are some strategies if you want to cut back.

What the Research Tells Us

An estimated 80% of adults consume caffeine. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, healthy adults can ingest 400 milligrams of caffeine a day (or four to five cups of coffee or six to seven cups of black or green tea) without risk. However, the maximum can vary based on each individual’s ability to metabolize the chemical, and children, pregnant or breastfeeding individuals and those with certain health conditions shouldn’t consume it at all. And we’re not always drinking it: Caffeine may show up in chewing gum, cookies, hot sauce, candy, beef jerky, mints, syrup, waffles, shampoo, soap, lip balm, eye cream, body scrub, and body lotion. Many of us may be more caffeinated than we realize.

Exceeding the upper recommended limit of caffeine can cause:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Tremors

Stay Energized With Nurse-Approved Alternatives

Yes, it is possible to make it through the day without a cuppa, cappuccino, or carbonated beverage—even during a busy 12-hour nursing shift. If java gives you the jitters, consider an ONS member–approved alternative like movement, sleep, or nutrition to stay energized all day.

ONS member Karen Harden, DNP, RN, AOCNS®, clinical assistant professor at University of Michigan School of Nursing in Ann Arbor, shared three simple but effective strategies: sleep, activity, and socialization. 

“Energy that lasts throughout the day starts with getting a great night’s sleep,” Harden said. “By keeping the same sleep schedule every night, your body comes to appreciate the rhythm and it may help you feel energized when you wake up each day. But when my energy is waning during the day, I love to take a brisk walk outside, or if outside is not feasible, a quick walk around the hospital, clinic, or office might do the trick. Also, talking with people or making quick connections during the day can produce positive vibes that keeps you energized.​”

ONS member Michelle Payne, DNP, RN, OCN®, BMTCN®, a nursing practice specialist at the Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Comprehensive Cancer Center in Winston-Salem, NC, also found that engaging in brisk, easy movements (e.g., climbing a flight of steps, chewing gum) helps her stay energized. She also recommended drinking cold water, avoiding carb-heavy meals, and focusing on nutrition.

“I’ll take daily vitamins and snack on frozen grapes or anything I can put peanut butter on to keep me energized and ensure I get my nutrients,” Payne said. “This especially helps on days when I have meetings back-to-back for several hours and forget my lunch at home!”

ONS member Jennifer Lewellyn, RN, OCN®, radiation oncology nurse navigator at the Asante Heimann Cancer Center in Medford, OR, also relies on vitamins, particularly vitamin C, which not only boost immunity during the winter but also give her an afternoon boost.

“I choose a vitamin C drink because of the antioxidants it supplies me with and the energy it gives,” Lewellyn said “In fact, I do avoid taking it in the afternoon because it may interfere with my sleep. I would like to get in the habit of a caffeine alternative, perhaps juices or getting up and going for a walk or stairs."

ONS member Delores Kannas, BSN, MSN, MHA, a clinical research nurse in Seattle, WA, admitted that although she has little plans for ditching caffeine, she still uses other ways to stay energized outside of her daily cups of coffee.

“First, I avoid staying up late in order to ensure I get at least seven or eight hours of sleep,” Kannas said. “I drink caffeinated tea with my oatmeal for breakfast, have coffee midmorning and midafternoon, and drink cocoa in the evening. My most important source of energy, though, comes from exercising before work in the morning.”

Find more ideas for staying energized and share your own strategies on the ONS Communities.