Up until recently, I was a graduate student. That means I loved caffeine. LOVED. Not just a little bit of caffeine, but gobs of it: energy drinks, diet cokes, coffee, caffeine pills. I would drink cup after cup every day just to make sure my sleep deprivation never caught up with me (which it always eventually did, but that’s another post).
In college debate, I definitely wasn’t getting enough sleep. I would pull an all-nighter before tournaments to make sure I was ready, stay up until 3am every night at the tournament, and get up every day at 5:30am. After all that, I would feel entitled to a pretty long night out with friends (you know, as a reward for working so hard on debate). Or 5 nights out. Or a month out.
To support this super-human sleep schedule, I used to gulp energy drinks at the rate of up to 7 a day (if you include mix drinks at the bar). I’m not even talking the small Red Bull cans. These were the huge cans with the twist-off lids. This had all kinds of un-sublime consequences, from jitters to lack of sleep. I don’t know how I kept my weight under control, either. Those cans contain hundreds of calories and chemicals that probably threw me all out of wack.
When I got to grad school, I wasn’t necessarily sleeping more but my metabolism no longer permitted me to mainline hyper-caffeinated sugar water without ballooning. I also started hanging out with people over the age that energy drinks are marketed to and thus most of my consumption was restricted to shots at the bar and the occasional nostalgic 7/11 purchase. I basically missed out on 4 Loko (for the most part . . . mistakes were made), so I never got into the Jolly Rancher flavored beer thing.
So I felt extremely virtuous when I started drinking coffee, partially because it wasn’t a sugar-bomb, partially because everyone else was drinking it, and partly because it was convenient and cheap. I also figured it would help me cut back on caffeine overall because, honestly, I hated coffee.
False. It didn’t take long for me to start loving coffee. It was warm on cold days, could be iced down on hot summer days, and it gave me the kind of instant jolt I could no longer reliably expect from other caffeine sources. The shared office I worked in had an ancient coffee urn that we would fire up at all hours and split two or three ways (4-5 large mugs for everyone). I started getting into fancy coffee and I really loved the way all coffee tasted.
The problem, however, was that I wasn’t sleeping again (or rather, I was, but erratically). I would spend most of the night watching TV. I was also often too jittery to really focus. I gave maybe one or two hilariously bad presentations where I basically stream-of-consciousness babbled. At that point, it became clear that artificial wakefulness was no substitute for sleep.
So I’m cutting out caffeine for awhile. The only thing I’m going to allow myself is maybe one or two cups of tea a day (I’ve heard it’s a more sustainable jolt and, in my experience, it doesn’t give me the jitters). So far, it hasn’t really been that hard. I’ve replaced my Diet Cokes with water (which is not a bad idea considering how hot Texas is and how dehydrating that can be). This has me drinking more water, which feels good because every article in every magazine ever says to Drink More Water. I also get to look all sustainable with my work-issued BPA-free water bottle drinking eco-friendly water.
I’ve noticed that I sleep better and have an easier time waking up. I’ve also noticed that a better way to give myself energy is to eat healthy foods so I don’t NEED so much coffee.
Major upsides: Sleep is easier and higher-quality. No rambling presentations. No racing-heart, hand-shaking, oh-no-I-overcaffeinated-and-I-can’t-do-anything-about-it moments before job interviews. No coffee aftertaste or coffee breath. Filling up water bottle is free. Soda is teeming with HFCS.
Downsides: I have an irrational love for Diet Coke. Waking up is a more gradual process than I would like it to be. I miss the taste of coffee. I have a bunch of Diet Coke in my fridge, taunting me, and it feels wasteful to get rid of it.
Thus far, no major fails.