Going to Zero: Caffeine

A recent development in my life is removing the daily caffeine intake that normally happens. Previously, I consumed two cups of coffee in the morning, and rarely drank any sodas (caffeinated or not). This supplied me with enough caffeine to keep going throughout the day, or so I thought. I realize that just 2 cups a day is not a lot compared to some people, but my focus was on the habitual nature rather than the dosage.

Why Do This to Myself

At one point last year I had a moment of introspection: I have been on caffeine daily for over 20 years of my life, I should try going away from it for awhile to see what the effects are. After that epiphany I quit coffee on the spot and challenged nature to give me its worst.

Granted, I have been off caffeine a few times in my life, mainly whenever I have been sick, but caffeine has a half-life that can reside in your system for longer than you think. So really, I doubt my adult nervous system has ever known what it was like to not been caffeinated.

So, being the scientist that I am, I decided to put myself to the test and completely scrap caffeine (and coffee) from my daily life. That does not mean I abstain from all caffeine, since I want to enjoy some things in life, but it means that caffeine is no longer a daily driver. There are far too many things in life with caffeine in them (chocolate, for one) that I am not going to give up.

In addition, abstinance would only serve to run away from the problems of caffeine, whereas my experiment was to figure out what effects caffeine had on my body, and removing the constant intake allowed my nervous system to get back to a standard baseline (hand-wavy science, I know).

Negative Effects

First and foremost, going off caffeine cold turkey is headache-inducing. I found my thinking slow and sluggish even though I was trying to maintain the same level of thinking that I usually put in.

Once my headaches went away I also noticed that I was more lightheaded and wobbly (for lack of a better word) than usual at my standing desk at work. It took about 2 weeks of me standing and sitting at regular intervals for me to stop feeling that way.

I had a lot of cravings for coffee. Not for the caffeine itself, but for the social nature of coffee and something warm. Most of our hot drinks have some sort of caffeine in it (coffee, black/green tea, hot chocolate, and even decaffeinated coffee) so I am left with very little choice on a winter morning when I want a warm, soothing drink. I did not want to substitute one drug for another (that is, caffeine for sugar) so I stayed away from non-caffeinated sweet drinks. Instead, I opted for Vanilla Rooibos which is suprisingly good, but not as heartwarming as a hot cup of coffee. One has to accept this fact and move on.

Now that caffeine is out of my system, even small amounts of caffeine can keep me awake at night. I also can no longer have things like caffeinated Frappucinos because they blitz my system with so much sugar and caffeine that I feel like I am having a panic attack. I cannot imagine how much baseline caffeine needs to be in your system not to feel the effects of that kind of drink.

Positive Effects

Having a nervous disposition since childhood, caffeine only helped to add fuel to the fire when I felt any pang of anxiety. Once the anxiety sets in, the rest of the symptoms start (quick breathing, sweaty, flight/fight response) and there is no going back until enough time has passed that I start to calm down. Not having caffeine in my system meant that my mind went searching for the energy to get anxious, but then ultimately felt too tired to start. The end result is that most of my situational anxiety and nervousness is now gone or reduced to a dull murmur.

The absolute slowness of my thinking is still there, but now I understand that it is more deliberate than rushed. Caffeine was amping me up where my mind was trying to keep pace at all time, and now that I do not have that extra energy to push me, I can realize the same relative speed of thinking but without the frenetic feeling that goes along with it.

I also notice that I am not as hungry, as the caffeine is not playing with my metabolism. I simply eat when I am hungry and that is it. With caffeine, I would feel a sharp drop in energy in the afternoon and need to snack to get my energy back up, but now I have enough energy throughout the day (I never changed my eating habits and eat pretty healthy).

My sleeping patterns are much better. I get tired at night and I am not wide awake. I no longer get that sour stomach feeling from too much coffee.

Lastly, any injection of caffeine into my system is felt immediately. Even eating chocolate, I can feel a rush of energy and quick thinking (sugar is also helping, too). Given all the short-term effects of having even a small dose of caffeine, one can certainly tell that it is a drug.

The Future?

I am happy where I am with my choice. I have accepted the lack of coffee in the morning, and also the lack of an energy boost. I have realized that caffeine does not actually wake you up, it just tricks you into thinking that you are not asleep. The sleep is still required, so you get more tired over time until you finally break.