My caffeine fast reached its intended three-month mark over the weekend. I was disappointed not to get the sleep benefits I hoped for.
When food writer Michael Pollan tried a three-month caffeine fast and said that by the end he was “sleeping like a teenager,” I wanted in. My sleep has been poor for years.
The first three weeks were challenging as I went through withdrawal. I had a mild headache most mornings and I wanted …something. A salty snack? A stiff drink? A long walk? My body was confused. Obviously I wanted caffeine, but I didn’t specifically crave a hit like a heroin addict.
I switched to herbal tea so I’d still have a warm morning drink. Orange spice tea satisfied me best. But after about six weeks I realized I very much missed the taste of coffee. This made me happy — I worried before the fast that I drank coffee not because I liked it, but because it delivered caffeine into my addicted body. But in truth, I like coffee.
By this time we were on stay-at-home orders thanks to COVID-19. Adapting was hard for the first few weeks. Some of our kids lost their jobs in the pandemic and, struggling, made some choices that caused family stress. I was also leading a critical tight-deadline project at work that drained me dry most days.
With all of this stress I said to hell with it and started making a half pot of decaf every morning. I am delighted that quality decaf tastes very good today. The last time I drank much decaf was at least 25 years ago, and it was all crap then.
Strictly speaking, this ended my caffeine fast as a 12-ounce mug of decaf has about 10 mg caffeine in it. This is still very little caffeine compared to regular coffee, which delivers at least 140 mg caffeine in 12 ounces. It’s even not much caffeine compared to my favorite soda, Diet Dr Pepper, at 41 mg caffeine in 12 ounces. However, before the fast I drank six mugs of coffee every day. That’s a whopping 1,680 mg caffeine! The 30-40 mg caffeine in my daily decaf is a 98% reduction in caffeine intake.
One surprising challenge of quitting coffee was that my digestion … how can I say this delicately … immediately had trouble working its way to its expected end. I was uncomfortable a lot. This resolved entirely when I started drinking decaf.
But quitting caffeine didn’t help my sleep one bit. I’ve never slept easily, and when I’m under stress I wake up at 3 am and can’t go back to sleep. The enormous amount of caffeine I was consuming had to be making it worse. But after eliminating caffeine I still woke up a lot in the middle of the night. Even when I didn’t I frequently woke up not feeling rested. Who knows whether this would have been any different had COVID-19 and the big work project not happened.
It hurts that my alcohol intake has increased during the pandemic. I know alcohol makes my sleep less restful. The stressful work project ended, and when it did I decided to go on the wagon for a while. We will see whether sleep improves.
Now that this is over, I intend to keep limiting caffeine. I haven’t had a cup of regular coffee yet and I’m in no hurry to. I’ll keep brewing decaf at home. I’ll let caffeinated diet sodas back into my life at the couple-a-week rate I drank them before.
Perhaps a good cup of regular coffee can become a tool, something I use occasionally for caffeine’s boost. Perhaps I will approach regular coffee like I approach a good cocktail: I go out for one once in a while, to a place that makes them very well.
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