Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Going Caffeine-Free

I know, right?  But while most people do just fine on caffeine, I found myself in a cycle of insomnia, leading to extra caffeine the next day, leading to worse insomnia.  I wasn't even that heavy of a caffeine drinker.  I would generally have one or two 16 oz cup of ice tea in the morning, then a 16 oz coffee.  After a sleepless night, I would sometimes add another 16 oz coffee or coffee drink from McDonalds before noon, plus one or more 32 oz ice teas (There's a McDonald's across from my office, which makes it an easy money-sink for drinks). 

First I just cut out the coffee, under the mistaken impression that iced tea had so little caffeine that it wouldn't make a difference.  When there was no difference in my insomnia levels, I did a little research.  According to Energy Fiend's caffeine database, 8 ounces of brewed ice tea contains 47 mg of caffeine, while a 16 ounce cup of brewed coffee from McDonalds has 145 mg caffeine.  So if I had two cups of ice tea in the morning plus a 32 ounce ice tea at lunch, I was at about 188 mg of caffeine, and might as well have had a large coffee. 

Further research found studies that suggested caffeine has a significant effect on blood sugar levels.  I have PCOS, and take Metformin to help control blood sugar.  Studies from 2004 and 2008 claim that caffeine has detrimental effect on blood sugar equal to the positive effect of blood sugar medication, in that it causes spikes after meals.  So my caffeine intake may have been cancelling out any benefit I was getting from taking Metformin.  I have to take this with a grain of salt because there are a lot of studies with exaggerated or correlational effects mis-reported in the news when it comes to pop medicine topics like diabetes.  But while the blood sugar theories did not make or break the decision, it was one more piece of the puzzle. 

So I first cut down to one 16oz ice tea in the morning, then stopped altogether.  I chose a long weekend with no plans so that I could sleep off whatever headache came up (only a mild one, nothing like when I quit smoking!).  We both missed ice tea with breakfast, so we looked for alternatives.  After trying a few herbal combinations, we finally settled on regular decaf tea.  As we did with the caffeinated tea, we put six teabags in the coffee pot and brewed hot water through the coffeemaker.  We let it steep a few minutes, then pour it off into a pitcher for the fridge.  It's massively cheaper than buying bottled tea or mixes, and I think it tastes better.

What's interesting is that I have a certain conditioned reaction to the tea.  I feel more awake after I've had a cup, even though it's decaf.  I believe that the flavor of the ice tea is the conditioned stimulus for my brain to feel energized, because I don't have the same effect from drinking juice or water.  Blessings upon the placebo effect, and may it last forever!

One surprise is that I'm not any more tired than I was.  I expected to be a zombie for at least a month once I quit caffeine.  There was a drop for a few weeks, but then I re-adjusted to what feels like the same level of alertness I had when I was chugging the caf. I've also seen a significant reduction in my anxiety levels. The brain has to adjust to different levels of blood flow and pressure, plus learn to work without the stimulation provided by the caffeine.  What I don't have is the crazy zen-like boundless energy some anti-caffeine proselytizers claim.  Perhaps that's really the experience for some. 

The lack of difference in my energy tell me that caffeine wasn't accomplishing anything for me, besides interrupting my sleep, costing me money, spiking my anxiety, messing with my blood sugar levels, and giving me occasional withdrawal headaches on weekends.

That's good enough for me!


lowbudgetcyborg said...

I recently drastically reduced my caffeine intake and also found that it really helped my insomnia and anxiety. I was having about 12oz coffee with 2 hot chocolate packets in it in the morning and another like it in the afternoon every workday.

Currently I might have coffee before I leave the house in the morning, and I very occasionally have caffeinated tea in the morning at work. I try not to consume anything more caffeinated than chocolate after noon. It has had a really positive effect on the quality of sleep I am getting and I also don't have as much of that "why won't my brain shut up for five minutes so I can get sleepy?" feeling.

Another factor for me was that the hot chocolate packets that I needed to make my workplace's coffee palateable had a lot of sodium, and that was making my ankle/leg swelling way worse. So in a round-about way reducing caffeine has helped my ankle swelling as well.

I didn't actually do it on purpose, at first. I had a little cold and took nyquil at night for a few days. The nyquil left me so well-rested that I didn't feel the need for coffee and by the beginning of the next work week after I was over my cold I had really noticed a difference in my ankles and in my anxiety levels and decided to swear off the breakroom coffee.

ahnn said...

You can try Caffeine Free tea. It's very good for the health plus there's no caffeine.