Caffeine, Part 1 of 3: Scratching the Itch

My mechanical perspective on life drives me to cut-to-the bone conclusions. So here’s the disclaimer for this three-part post: I don’t care if you drink coffee or not. I have nothing to sell you here. It’s your life (and I say this without a shred of sarcasm). This topic personally intrigues me and some people have found my standpoint interesting. Therefore, will you deeply-entrenched caffeine enthusiasts consider cutting me some slack as I scratch this itch?

This analysis is punctuated with accepted professional/scientific conclusions, but mostly this is my own experience as I moved from heavy caffeine user to (almost) non-user. I base every element of my personal and professional life on the Work the System methodology which revolves around the simple mechanical “systems mindset” approach. I see my world as a collection of separate systems, and I negotiate my day from that perspective.

I’ve quit caffeine two times. Once cold-turkey. Once not-so-cold turkey. Today I consume caffeine but I am not addicted. I can take it or leave it.

In these essays, I’ll use the terms coffee and caffeine interchangeably. For our purposes, consider them the same thing.

So you understand I am down with the joys of caffeine, follow me to YouTube. Turn up the volume. It’s a magic carpet ride. I love this video. Of course it’s about jets, but also about motorcycles, rock climbing, surfing, skiing deep powder on the steeps, and for the confirmed caffeine addict, the day’s first jolt. The music is by Steppenwolf, the sweet 60’s grandmother of jack-me-up heavy metal aggresso-rock.

But let’s get mundane and delve into the boring-but-true realm, starting with sleep. Nowadays, the sleep component of the human diurnal system is under siege. (From, the word diurnal is defined as “showing a periodic alteration of condition with day and night, as certain flowers that open by day and close by night”). Due to everything from the invention of the electric light bulb, to TV, to incessant texting, to stimulants (yes, caffeine), to things-are-moving-too-damn-fast stress…almost all of us are sleep deprived. Flit around Google and you’ll find sleep deprivation responsible for memory deterioration, weight gain, heart disease, depression, mechanical accidents, and vile dispositions. In geopolitical intrigue, sleep deprivation is a popular information gathering tool of the counter-intelligence darlings.

In daily life, chronic sleep deficiency is an enormous encroachment on personal efficiency which most of us ignore. And here’s a fact most of us don’t know: If one is in sleep deficit, some large percentage of the deficit has to be made up somewhere down the line. It doesn’t just go away, and so the question must be asked: Will the deficit be made up now or later? And if the answer is later, know that until later arrives, the integrated system-of-systems that makes decisions and carries you around – your brain/body – will be functioning at less than peak. If one is trying to get somewhere in life, that’s not a good thing.

Due to daily caffeine consumption there is a bit of sleep lost every 24 hour cycle as one wakes up in the middle of the night, rises earlier in the morning and/or just doesn’t sleep deeply. After a light caffeine day, the deficit might be just a few minutes. On heavy days, an hour or more. In any case, the deficit relentlessly accumulates. Hence, with consistent caffeine consumption comes chronic sleep deprivation and all the negatives that go along with it and, no question, the deeper one goes into it, the harder it is to haul one’s ass out of it: Ever sleep for 72 hours straight?

So this is the insidious part: The deficit accumulates slowly and so it’s not noticed as one gets used to negotiating days at increasingly sub-optimal levels, both physically and emotionally. Subpar performance becomes the accepted norm. Yes, the blame for this quiet downhill slide into serious sleep deficit can be leveled squarely on perhaps our finest human attribute: a capacity for quickly adapting to changing circumstances.

In any case, for the caffeine-dependent, symptomatic morning grogginess is wiped out by that first cup.

So feeling tired is just one of two reasons for finding oneself craving caffeine in the morning. The other reason is the above mentioned simple addiction. That early morning cup is alleviating withdrawal symptoms – mental depression, especially – from the previous day’s ingestion. That’s a big reason why it makes you feel better. It erases the withdrawal-blues…until tomorrow morning.

I won’t go into detail here, but know the physical addiction to caffeine has to do with our nerve synapsis adapting to the stead inflow of the caffeine. Breaking the addiction means getting those synapsis back to normal functioning. This is not a mental addiction. It’s physical.

Here’s the root system-process of any addiction: The bell rings and, in electric anticipation, our Pavlovian dog salivates as the treat is about to be delivered. It’s a conditioned addictive response, but in chronic human caffeine consumption, butt-kicking chemical dependency is the price to be paid.

People. Conditioning. Chemically dependence. Pavlov. Whatever. It’s just simple mechanics so although there might be some heavy lifting at the beginning, it’s a simple fix. Let’s see about breaking that addiction so you can enjoy caffeine without depending on it.

Part Two is here: Life Cold Turkey.