Saturday, August 25, 2012

Caffeine Cutback

Long time, no see.

Travis Bradberry published an article for Forbes the other day about caffeine's effects on both the body and a person's emotional state.  It raised two points that made me sit up and take notice.  The first dealt with caffeine and adrenaline; the second, with caffeine and sleep.  Since I experience issues with both of those things from time to time, I decided to cut my daily caffeine intake.

The Forbes article mentions the fact that drinking caffeine stimulates the release of adrenaline in the body.  The adrenaline elevates the body to at least a partial "fight or flight" state, increasing energy and blood pressure, letting emotions run wild as chemicals bypass the brain's "wet blanket" of thought and reason.

I love this state.

For a long time now, I've known how to trigger a sizable surge of adrenaline in my body.  I adore the heightened, explosive, happy, angry, destructive, devil-may-care feeling it provides.  It's something of a Berserker state, and it feels amazing.

At various points in the past year and a half, however, I found that I couldn't tap that Berserker adrenaline.  No matter how hard I tried, no matter what methods I used, the adrenaline I needed wouldn't come.  The realization that I lost an ability, combined with the lack of the regular emotional flushing provided by a good rage, left me as close to depressed as I ever become.

Bradberry's article made me think about the problem in a new light.  The body develops a tolerance to almost any chemical after prolonged, regular exposure.  With the amount of caffeine I drink, it seems reasonable that my body was developing a tolerance to both caffeine and adrenaline.  The first isn't that troubling as regards this problem; if my body produces less adrenaline in response to the same amount of caffeine, it reduces the chance of adrenaline tolerance somewhat.  However, I'm sure there is still some production, some adrenaline release, and a growing tolerance due to the regular presence of adrenaline in my system.

Wouldn't that make it harder to get to Berserker state?  It's likely that all the old methods are still trying to produce adrenaline to flood my system.  Unfortunately, they're probably tapping a reservoir that is nearly dry from a day's constant use.  On top of that, the "cup" that must be filled gets larger and larger as my tolerance grows, and can hardly be filled by the trickle available.

Seems a decent reason to cut back on the caffeine, no?

Bradberry's article also points out that caffeine drastically influences sleep, especially when combined with its trigger of adrenaline.  He points out that the amount of time caffeine remains in the body, working its "magic", is fairly long.  An average cup of coffee in the morning leaves a quarter of its caffeine in the body twelve hours later, which he notes leaves any caffeine ingested after noon in a prime position to still be affecting the drinker at bedtime.  The body has trouble sleeping, can't progress as easily through the necessary sleep cycles.  Through the magic of science, "[c]affeine and lack of sleep leave you feeling tired in the afternoon, so you drink more caffeine, which leaves even more of it in your bloodstream at bedtime".

My problem here is that I don't just get tired in the afternoon.  I get bone-weary, thought-addled, lie-down-right-now-and-sleep-for-two-hours-or-else TIRED.  I hit the bed almost every afternoon around 15:30 or 16:00 and usually make my way through a 90-minute sleep cycle.  It's frustrating, especially when I usually don't wake until 10:30 most mornings.  I'm only awake an average of five hours before my body needs an extra sleep cycle, and up to now, there hasn't seemed much I could do about it.  Regular exercise and increased nighttime sleep didn't do anything to blunt the force of the Nap Hammer when it gave me my afternoon bludgeoning.  Now I have something else to try, with a decent causal relationship behind it and a genuine hope it might prove effective.

This will be a fairly large change for me.  I drink a lot of soda.  It's about the only sugar I regularly consume (since I naturally prefer low-carb foods and simply abhor most desserts).  I don't mind other sugary drinks, like fruit juices or Kool-Aid.  With three kids in the house, however, sugary drinks don't last long.  I bought two types of cranberry juice yesterday (Friday) afternoon, totaling four quarts; I'll be surprised if either bottle lasts until Sunday afternoon.  As such, I decided to make a serious attempt to cut my intake of sugary drinks, too.  It should prevent me from worrying so much about the costs and availability of caffeine alternatives.  (It should also be healthier, but when the need for a daily nap is the only indicator that I'm not hale and hearty, health isn't much of a concern.)

So, the plan involves a dedication to consuming only one or two caffeinated beverages a day, and doing my damnedest to avoid sugar water the rest of the time.  (Oh, and remembering to drink enough that I don't become dehydrated from not constantly guzzling soda.)  I hope the results come quickly enough to reward and strengthen my resolve.   Soda is ever-present, after all.

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