Table of Contents
Why this experiment?
On the 5th of April 2021, I got married. It’s made me think more about time optimisation and energy management. You see, when I was single, it was ok for me to go into a intellectual coma with little interaction with anyone for a few days in a row. Now, I share my life with someone else. I am happy with that. In fact, I welcome and cherish it. Marriage is the ultimate exercise in self-improvement because it teaches you to be selfless.
You’re may be wondering what any of this has to do with Caffeine and Coffee. After reading Dr. Stephen Walker’s book why we sleep, I realised that caffeine could be having an adverse affect on my ability to perform deep work. Now that I am married, the time that I get to do work has been reduced dramatically which means that the value of time that I get to work deeply has increased. If a substance like Caffeine is hampering my ability to sleep and concentrate, I want to know.
I decided to quit coffee for a month to try and figure out if it’s having a negative affect on my work or sleep. After reading Why we sleep I am certain even an improvement in my sleep would improve my ability to work deeply. My hypothesis is that quitting caffeine will increase the quality of my sleep and/or my ability to work deeply.
For the last 30 days (as I write this), I have been taking a more careful approach to measuring how many cups of coffee I drink every day. I have also been wearing my sports watch during this period. The sports watch can track my sleep and my heart rate 24/7. I wanted to get a baseline month of measurement in before I quit caffeine, so I’d know for certain if quitting caffeine is actually benefiting me.
I thought it would be a great idea to track my productivity with RescueTime. But, I realised that the RescueTime productivity pulse is an unreliable metric. For starters, on more than one occasion during the baseline month I forgot to turn RescueTime on which lead to unreliable data capture. Additionally, RescueTime is pretty black and white when it comes to categorising activities. For example, if you had to watch a video tutorial on Youtube to solve a complex problem it’d count that time as “unproductive”.
I have quit caffeine before, that last time I did, I felt tired and sluggish for the first 72hrs. I also noticed that getting up to make a cup of coffee was a good excuse to take a break from work. I am going to try replace coffee with water, rooibos and going for short walks during this experiment.
What will a successful experiment look like?
I am not convinced that caffeine has an adverse affect on my work and sleep quality. But, if I am wrong, it seems like a simple change that I can make to improve my sleep and work quality. If I get to the end of this experiment and see no visible benefits to quitting caffeine, I will continue drinking large amounts of coffee.
If I do see an improvement in my sleep and work quality, then I’ll consider giving up caffeine or reducing the amount of caffeine that I consume.
This is the month proceeding this experiment where I kept drinking coffee as I usually would. I kept track of the following stats:
- Total Sleep Duration
- “Actual” Sleep [Link to polar article on this?]
- Sleep Quality (= Total Sleep / Actual Sleep)
- Cups of Coffee
- Resting Heart Rate
During the experiment month I’ll continue to keep track of the metrics above.
At the time of writing this blog, I have yet to actually do the second part of the experiment, but I’ll be posting updates below as I go:
[July 12 – Day 1] – I woke up craving coffee, as you’d expect from a caffeine addict. Throughout the day I had a headache and feeling of not being able to concentrate.
[July 13 – Day 2] – Still have a headache, still feel like I can’t concentrate. Despite having 9 hours of sleep, I feel very tired.
[July 14 – Day 3] – Headache has subsided, my kidneys have started to ache. Don’t feel as tired.
[July 15 – Day 4] – Headache almost completely absent. My kidneys are incredibly sore, drinking lots of water.
[July 16 – Day 5] – This is the most normal I have felt since, quitting caffeine. Kidneys are still a bit sore. I don’t feel tired and I feel like I can concentrate again.
As I noted above, During the first week I experienced multiple withdrawal symptoms. These included: Headaches, fatigue, irritability and sore kidneys. After about 10days these symptoms fully subsided. Looking at the data I collected I can’t see a clear correlation between the month of coffee and no coffee. My sleep time remained roughly the same and my sleep quality does not seem to have improved. This doesn’t surprise me, I am no sleep scientist I know that extremely expensive equipment and sleep labs are required to collect accurate data.
So what advantages did I see?
Firstly, I got tired much sooner in the evening. I felt myself naturally feeling tired at about 08:00pm instead of my previous bedtime of 10:00pm. While caffeine didn’t necessarily increase my sleep quality it did make falling asleep easier. This is because of a chemical called Adenosine. Adenosine is one of the many factors that contribute to sleepiness. Adenosine coats your neurological receptors throughout the day. As the build up of Adenosine builds up, you’ll feel more tired. Caffeine negates this process, it coats the neural receptors hindering the buildup of Adenosine.
During the day, I can’t say that I felt any tangible advantages. I would have expected to see an increase in my productivity, but this wasn’t the case. I felt much the same as before.
I am still toying with the idea of drinking caffeinated beverages. I thought I’d rush to go back to coffee, but rather I find myself feeling apprehensive about it. I want to consume caffeine in a more responsible manner going forward. Perhaps, only 1 cup a day during the mid morning. This would make the most sense since caffeine stays in your body for about 10 – 12 hours which would mean the caffeine would be out of my body by bed time.
I genuinely enjoy the taste of a good cup of coffee, this is what I miss. I don’t really relish the kick that I get from coffee. Although the kick that I got from my first cup of coffee after 30 days of no coffee was rather nice. It’s something I have not experienced in quite a while.
Advice for someone who wants to try a similar caffeine experiment
If you are wanting to try a similar experiment here is what I’d recommend:
Don’t quit cold turkey. It’s really uncomfortable. Rather, slowly ween yourself off of caffeine by drinking decaffeinated drinks and drinks with less caffeine like various varieties of tea (Green Tea has a really low caffeine content).
Set yourself a goal, establish how long you’re going to quit caffeine and why. Also clearly outline what type of results you would like to see at the end. This will help you understand whether you should continue when you’re done with your caffeine fast.
The effects of caffeine on Adenosine: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/nutrition/caffeine-and-sleep