Sunday, May 31, 2009

Kicking the caffeine habit

I love coffee. Love it. I enjoy drinking it for the flavor, the sensation of a warm liquid, the social aspect, and the caffeine. But what I don't love is being addicted to coffee. When I'm used to a cup or two every day, going without can lead to headaches in the afternoon and evening, early sleepiness, and general malaise. In addition, being addicted means that in the morning I'm often groggy until I've had my cup of joe.

I've thought several times about quitting, especially after reading that going caffeine-free can reduce the overall amount of sleep you need by improving sleep quality. But I've never quite been willing to give it up; the process always seemed like a pain, and I like coffee too much.

The setting

Guatemala produces some of the best coffee in the world, accessible anywhere in the US or Europe. Despite this fact, it is almost impossible to get good coffee within the country. The top four quality grades are all exported! There are a few cafe's in the cities that still serve high quality stuff, but if you're looking to stock a kitchen, forget it! Poor quality beans or instant coffee are your only choices.

This means that during our stay with a family, and at the school, we drank pretty much only NesCafe and mediocre brewed coffee. One afternoon in a cafe I had a tasty espresso drink, but other than that we only drank the bad stuff. Don't get me wrong... it wasn't terrible. I could drink it, it was a warm drink, and it provided some caffeine, but it wasn't exactly the kind of thing that made me want to brew a second cup at breakfast.

Combine this with my recent thinking about sleep and dreams, and I was debating kicking the habit, but the memory of caffeine headaches on the first few days was holding me back.

The crisis that got me started

I spent almost the entire day Tuesday in bed with a fever and stomach problems. In fact, from Monday night until Wednesday morning, out of 36 hours I probably spent 34.5 in bed, and the other 1.5 in the restroom. Even when I started feeling much better Wednesday, my stomach still felt extremely delicate and I did not want to put any coffee into it.

Thus I woke up Thursday morning realizing that I had not had any coffee to drink since Monday at breakfast. This was my golden opportunity if I wanted to try it! I could continue going forward with breaking my coffee addiction without having to suffer through the worst of the headaches and drowsiness; those days had passed when I was feeling so lousy for other reasons that I hadn't even noticed.

So far so good

I've now been coffee free for almost a week, which I think means that its almost entirely out of my system. A couple more days and I'll be able to declare myself caffeine free. What have I noticed so far?

Well, its hard to draw too many conclusions, because my body has also been messed up with antibiotics and recovering from illness, but a few things are already evident. First is that I wake up more immediately and without grogginess in the mornings. This is nice, and has led to me getting a fair amount of writing done. Secondly, the urges to drink coffee have also pretty much died down. I'm enjoying drinking both hibiscus and chamomile teas, and the other day when T had espresso with pancakes I had no trouble resisting drinking some. I think I may also be having less of an afternoon lull than I used to, but I'm not sure. I'll need to gather more data.

Sadly, I've so far seen no evidence of any reduction in sleep needs. I'm keeping close track, and still hope to see some, but don't have much confidence in it. Regardless, I'm so far enjoying the feeling of freedom of not needing caffeine for my regular routine, and while I miss the flavor of coffee, I feel I can replace the social and warm beverage aspects with teas. We'll see how it goes!

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1 comment:

  1. I've done this. In fact, I've done this several times. It's definately one of the milder addictions, but I hate needing some particular substance to function. The worse I ever had when quitting was one day of headache.

    I've found that I can have 1-2 cups of coffee a day with no symptoms of addiction. When I had much more than that, say when I was travelling for business, I would go cold turkey for a couple of days until I got back to normal.

    I never saw any change in sleep patterns.