How I USE Caffeine
Yes I said use, as in using a drug. Caffeine is classified as a drug. A stimulant to be exact. 80% of us are consuming caffeinated beverages – in the form of coffee, tea , soda and energy drinks. Since so many people are using caffeine, we often overlook it’s classification as a drug. Caffeine temporarily enhances dopamine signaling in the brain – which controls movement, emotions, and motivation.
Often the topic of Caffeine comes up in the WFPB community. Some people are die hard, “I can’t live without my coffee” and others have sworn off caffeine at all costs. I am personally in the middle of all that. I don’t have any judgment on serious caffeine users, but I want to use it to my advantage.
I started drinking coffee in 2011. Prior to that I was a diet-coke addict. I didn’t know I was an addict until I gave it up after going WFPB and that was a painful experience. Between the caffeine and aspartame withdrawals, the headaches were constant for a few weeks. I had also given up coffee in 2015 when I was pregnant and it was a rough couple first weeks filled with headaches and bad cravings. So last year when I decided it was time to set some boundaries with caffeine I wanted to be strategic about it.
My motivation to control my caffeine intake was for survival reasons. After my last maternity leave I was heading back to a job where I was commuting 2 hours and working 11.5 hours. All night shift. I leave my house at 6pm and I get home at 7:30am. I needed to be able to drive home safely and then fall asleep fast when I got home so I could get maximum sleep during the day. Then only to get up and do it all over, 5 nights in a row.
I knew I was going to need a strategy to make this schedule work, and the key was to use less caffeine, not more. That began with weaning myself off of Caffeine, which in turn increased my sensitivity. I slowly, over weeks, cut back one cup at a time. I stopped drinking coffee past 5pm, then past 4pm, then past 3pm… and on and on until I got down to just a morning coffee. Cutting back slowly like this I never had headaches. If you really enjoy that warm drink experience try hot water with lemon. It is surprisingly refreshing.
Five months before I went back to night shift work I ditched caffeine all together to really ramp up my sensitivity. When I went back to work I decided I was going to start with just one cup of coffee around midnight. For any of you that work night shift you’ll either know from experience or research that 3:00/4:00am is huge dip in our circadian rhythm. Basically it’s the strongest push your body makes to be asleep. It is when the most human errors occur. We were never designed to be awake all night. This is when I wanted caffeine still in my system. Then around 6:30am, when I had to start my hour drive home, I still wanted a slight alertness affect. I found by consuming one coffee at 12:30am I get the best results. I have accidentally had my coffee later, around 2:30am and I couldn’t sleep when I got home and then even found it hard to stay asleep during the day. Caffeine has a half-life of 3 to 5 hours. The half-life is the time it takes your body to eliminate half of the drug.
It's good to know that once you regain your sensitivity to caffeine your energy levels will bounce back up. Ensuring adequate Vitamin D production, eating well, staying hydrated and getting proper rest (8-9 hours of sleep every day) are all healthy ways to manage fatigue and low energy. B Vitamins also play a role in energy levels.
As a mom myself there were a few years where I was lucky to get 5 hours of sleep a night. Caffeine saved me. So like I said - I have no "caffeine user" judgment here! My journey regaining caffeine sensitivity has only amplified the powers of caffeine and helped me see it as a tool - not a crutch.
A couple reasons to cultivate a healthy respect for caffeine:
Studies found that consuming caffeine 6 hours before bedtime reduces total sleep time by 1 hour
Caffeine can reduce the amount of deep sleep that you enjoy.
Caffeine works best when you use it on an intermittent, off-and-on basis.
Not all coffee is created equal. A cup of coffee can have as little as 200mg of caffeine all the way up to 600mg. Starbucks is known to have higher levels of caffeine.
Caffeine elevates blood pressure for most people.
Once you have a high sensitivity to Caffeine you can really get a good bang for your (star)bucks!
Adenosine is a substance in your body that promotes sleepiness. Caffeine blocks the adenosine receptor to keep you from feeling sleepy. Great if you need help occasionally, but not great if its constantly preventing you from getting proper rest.
Caffeine triggers your adrenal glands to release hormones that signal your body to go into fight or flight mode. This is why you may feel a crash after using caffeine, or even experience anxieties. When our body is in "fight or flight" mode our immune system is suppressed.