About 2 years ago I completely gave up on caffeine. I’ve stopped drinking coffee, most kinds of tea and caffeinated beverages such as diet coke. Giving up was not that difficult. I’ve never been a die hard fan of coffee though I savor a well prepared black tea and an occasional coke.

A negative consequence of completely giving up on caffeine is that even the tiniest bit disrupts a good night sleep. Feel like a having a cold bursting diet coke at 4pm? Face insomnia the following night! Same for tea or anything containing caffeine. I had adapted by finding valid substitutes. A cold highly carbonated water is as satisfying as a diet coke. Nothing trumps black tea but rooibos tea is enjoyable in its own way.

Back in the day I don’t remember if giving up on caffeine had made any life improvements. A couple of months ago I started having difficulties falling asleep quickly so I decided to carry out a couple of experiments. One of the experiments was to consume caffeine in large quantities (5+ caffeinated beverages per day). The experiment handsomely reminded me of all the benefits of not being addicted to the mainstream drug of caffeine!

But I digress, there are observable benefits:

  • My heart rate has dropped. Increased heart rate was one of the factors that kept me up at night.

  • I feel energized and enthusiastic. I feel excited doing things that normally get postponed. Even mundane things get done with a spark of creativity.

  • I can sustain energized and enthusiastic performance for about 4-6 hours. This has to be supported by regular caffeine consumption.

  • There’s a pronounced sharp productivity and energy crash in the evening at about 5-6pm. While the crash prevents me from doing creative work in the evening it allows me to disconnect quickly and relax. More on that later.

  • Surprisingly, I fall asleep much quicker! While I could have previously lied in bed for 15-45+ minutes now I lose grip on reality in a couple of minutes at most and less than a minute at best.

I’ve continued with the experiment for about 4 weeks. I am abandoning it because I find the habit completely incompatible with my lifestyle and the following negative effects:

  • Headaches. I get headaches if I don’t consume enough. When I wake up I have about one hour to drink a cup of coffee before strong headaches kick in. In the evenings the headaches are partially responsible for impairing any remaining productivity. I tried going without coffee one Saturday. I could not focus on anything. I vaguely recognize this feeling from the days when I had been a regular coffee drinker. It never occurred to me that coffee could be causing this.

  • Aggression, anxiety, impatience. In the moments when I don’t get a caffeine “fix” I feel increased level of negative emotions and impatience. Even the most innocent behaviors drive me mad. Curiously, before I gave up coffee 2 years ago I never attributed caffeine as a source of anxiousness and irritability.

  • Longer sleep. Although I fall asleep much quicker now and subjectively have great sleep the objective quality must have deteriorated because I need more time to get to a rested state. Sleep is important for me (and should be for everyone in his right mind). I know I’m rested when I wake up before the alarm clock goes off. With caffeine I need 2 extra hours to get there.

  • Productivity crash. I’ve listed it as a benefit but it’s also a curse. I find it next to impossible to work on anything in the evening. Evening time is sacred to me. It’s when I can do something creative or engage in a side project or read or think. Frankly, I can do nothing now. I can’t even read articles and news from my curated RSS feed. I can only imagine watching mindless TV but luckily I don’t have one.

I’m currently on track to reduce caffeine consumption to no more than 1 cup of coffee a day plus a couple of cups of tea. I’m doing this to keep immunity from caffeine’s effect on sleep while reaping some of the benefits like reduced heart rate. I don’t know how useful such a compromise will be but in a couple of weeks I should have a realistic understanding.

I don’t see a reason to ever come back to consuming as much caffeine as I did in the past and during the last 4 weeks. I imagine caffeine is one bad habit that keeps a lot of unaware people in a bad loop. No wonder that few ever want to do anything exciting in the evening when the crash makes you feel so devastated and you think that’s normal.

I suppose caffeine has its place. I imagine coffee as a kind of “turbo boost” button in a critical situation when every extra bit of creativity and energy is needed. This “turbo boost” comes with sizable payback and so should be used sparingly.