The idea to give up caffeine came to me when I was — per usual — up very late one night. I drink a lot of caffeinated beverages, and I started to wonder whether I might get more rest without it, and what it would be like to not have the nervous buzz of caffeine so frequently at my fingertips. Although Gilmore Girls tells me being hyper-caffeinated is a positive and quirky state, health professionals do not.
I’m far from unique in my sleep-deprived, artificially energized norm. The vast majority of the population is living on less than adequate sleep, according to Christopher Drake, PhD, director of sleep research at Henry Ford Hospital. “One hour of lost sleep is not going to destroy anyone’s life, but as it builds up, you get chronic sleep restriction,” he says. And coffee is not the answer; caffeine may help to ease the feeling of sleepiness, but you still need the same amount of sleep. “Caffeine is certainly one way to minimize effects acutely and be able to feel alert, but at the same time, you’re building up chronic sleep debt. It becomes a safety issue very quickly.”
Before we go any further, let me just say that coffee in reasonable doses isn’t actually bad for you. Dependence (and withdrawal) is very real, but research has found that a moderate amount of coffee may actually help protect against health issues like heart disease, Parkinson’s, and diabetes.
Caffeine, like most things, needs to be used in moderation, and with care, and not as a substitute for getting rest. Dr. Drake likened the effects of sleep deprivation to those of being intoxicated, and said work- and auto-related accidents are all too common because of our sleepiness. The underslept also more likely to gain weight and develop diabetes, two things common in my family tree.
“The bottom line is to make sleep a priority in your life,” Dr. Drake says.
And so I shall. I prepare myself mentally, warn my family members, and research ways to keep from getting too sleepy. Giving up caffeine means going through withdrawal, so I stock up on Advil Liqui-Gels and assure myself that the good doctor is right: Sleep needs to be a priority. For the month of September, I will catalog all the ways a lack of caffeine affects me. Making it into a challenge makes it seem more exciting, but still, there’s a real problem: How will I be a nice person at 2:00 p.m. unless I have a cup of hot coffee pressed between my palms?