Is Caffeine Ruining Your Life?

It was International Coffee Day on October 1st. I didn’t participate.

The time had come for me to say goodbye to my faithful friend. Caffeine came into my life in Year 8, when school required us to rise before the sun had even emerged. The long cold mornings were fashioned in to something appealing with the promise of instant rejuvenation, straight from a mug. Warming, wakening and delicious, I guzzled through one coffee at first, then two per day. It was something like love at first sip.

It’s been eight years with my faithful companion alongside me. Unlike fine wine, my taste in coffee has not matured. And nor has my relationship with it (at best: love, at worst: not human without it).

Caffeine works like this: it stops adenosine binding to receptors in the brain, which is what makes you feel tired. It binds to the receptors instead, but without reducing brain activity. It also increases dopamine consumption in the brain, which is associated with feelings of happiness. There’s got to be a catch, right? As a seasoned coffee drinker I can say from experience that yes, there is – contrary to the rhetoric espoused by coffee shops.

Coffee got me through exams, albeit in quantities that made it difficult to focus. I sat my third chemistry A-Level exam at 9am, after four coffees, and couldn’t stop my hands shaking or my heart beating at 100mph. It was my worst mark. And yet I’d rather sit an exam in a coffee induced panic than with a brain that’s too tired to function. It was the best of a bad lot.

College was waking up at 6am and getting home at 6.30pm. I was permanently exhausted, never managing to attain more than 6 hours sleep. I did feel a bit desperate; this restless planet wasn’t facilitating my sleep pattern. My alarm going off at 6 felt like a slap in the face, which didn’t cease for the duration of the day. I came to dread that beeping sound with the same fierce vehemence that I’d reserved for One Direction music in a particularly contrarian phase of my childhood. 

But regular coffees (at least 3) throughout the day, could temporarily revive me from my zombie state… before crushing me with the inevitable caffeine low, letting fatigue return in increased quantities.

At some point, I saw a doctor. I was sick of the fact that I could barely participate in my own life. My friends didn’t seem to be crippled by lack of sleep; I wasn’t sure why my own day had such intense ups and downs. Every time I felt my energy dipping, I’d grab a coffee. Of all the things I could be addicted to, it seemed like the healthiest. Coffee is backed by scientists. Apparently it can make you live longer, and increases neurological activity and performance. I can’t deny it, in one exam I felt my hand gliding along the paper with a force of its own, spouting sentences in ink, before they’d even reached my mind.

As a runner, caffeine speeds you up. 

As a worker, caffeine speeds you up.

But, as a worrier, caffeine speeds the world up.

So this week, I decided to give up coffee for a week, to see how it felt. 

Saturday: 7am and there’s drilling outside. After waking up on the wrong side of the bed, the ghastly reality of my experiment takes hold, as I grip a warm cup of squash in my hand. What have I got myself in for? 

Sunday: Decaf is love. Decaf is life. I am fooling myself into thinking I’m drinking coffee. Sadly the placebo effect only works if you believe in it.

Monday: I slept in the day. I’ve never done that before. 

Tuesday: Things are happening more slowly. I thought I’d hate that but I feel like there’s more time in the day. I am reading without feeling restless. Margaret Atwood can thank me later.

Wednesday: I really miss coffee. I miss the highs and the happy feeling. 

Thursday: I think it’s harder to focus without coffee. Running was also so hard, I felt like I was dragging my body along.

Friday: I don’t think I want to cut coffee out of my life completely. Iced coffee is calling me. 

Wow. It was a bland, sad and slow week without caffeine, but time went more slowly. I was more calm, and somehow more present. It is tricky to know what life is like without something until you give it up. But, for me, the benefits of caffeine outweigh the negatives. It’s important to remember that caffeine should only be celebrated in moderation, and reminding yourself that you can live without anything is an important wake up call. Don’t listen to the coffee shops telling you to drink up. Take it slowly.

So, should you give up coffee? Give it up for a week and decide. 

Header Image Credit: Inc. Magazine