Rethinking Caffeine

Updated 08/19/18

For the last few months, I've been trying to cut back on caffeine intake. For about the last 3-4 four weeks I have been at basically zero caffeine intake. To many of you, this may seem blasphemous when the average person starts his or her day with a cup of coffee or four. I am not advocating to remove caffeine entirely, but I think we need to be more aware of the effects of the stimulant and leverage those benefits when needed. Now I'm not advocating against pre-workouts. Nor am I suggesting you stop consuming caffeine. What I want to do is provide a better idea of how caffeine affects the body. Caffeine should be seen as a tool rather than your go-to pick me up every morning.                       

For me, the thought process behind limiting caffeine intake was due in part to consuming a pretty hefty dose of caffeine in my pre-workout which is roughly about 300mg. When compared to coffee, this is equivalent to three cups worth at 3:00 - 4:00 pm, which gives it time to hit me by the time I am at the gym. Basically, over the past few months, I would notice a smaller and smaller effect of what the pre-workout was doing for me. Now, it's common knowledge that caffeine has a half-life of about six hours, which seems to me to be an oversimplification. It just means that half of the dose is now out of your system. So, in my case, I have another 150 mg to process at 9:00 - 10:00 pm. Assuming I were to get about 7 hours of sleep another half-life would have occurred, so I have a residual amount left of about 75mg. For reference, the average amount of caffeine in 8 oz. of coffee is 93mg. Now say I have a cup of coffee in the morning;  t  his throws a wrench into everything! Now, the remaining dose has been bumped back up to about 120mg! We never give our bodies periods of time without caffeine in our systems, just like we spend too much time looking at screens or overeating sugar. Our bodies don't know what it’s like to be caffeine-free.   

Caffeine blocks the adenosine receptor in the brain, which is what makes us feel sleepy. The receptor slowly gets more and more adenosine, but when you have caffeine, it completely stops the buildup. That's why when the caffeine wears off most people feel a crash because all the adenosine is there waiting to hit the receptor. Some people refer to this action as “sleep pressure since" it starts to build from the moment we wake up.  This function is why I believe we should take at least a few days off caffeine.   

We all hear how important sleep these days is. However, we don't know what quality sleep means, and we usually don't get enough either. I'm guilty of not getting enough sleep myself, and I continuously try to improve that. One of the reasons I stopped using caffeine was to see if the quality of my sleep would improve. I found that the number of hours stayed the same. However, each morning I would feel more well-rested than on the days I was consuming caffeine. I can't say I came up with these Ideas on my own. The most significant driving factor in this was Doctor Matthew Walker, author of    Why We Sleep. He was recently on the Joe Rogan Experience, and if you want to dive into how to rewire your sleep, then I highly recommend you check out that podcast. (Link at the bottom of this post.) 

Now, this is what I think- we should try to limit caffeine for two days a week. If that sounds daunting, then that’s even more reason to try this out. I think if someone needs to take an outside substance to operate normally, he or she is selling themselves short. If you can make it two days, then I would recommend taking the Tim Ferriss route and make it a two-week experiment of no caffeine. I want to reiterate that I'm not a doctor and I don't pretend to be one. From my own experiences, I believe that limiting any substance that affects a person mentally can have a tremendous benefit. Just like restricting sugar from your diet can have cascading benefits.  

I think we should see caffeine as a booster something that can kick you into high gear when you need the boost but it shouldn't be something you depend on to function. It's a tool and should be looked at and used as such. Our body should serve as the engine, and I'd choose not to inject some rocket fuel into my system to try to get that extra dose of energy. Let's start rethinking how we use caffeine. 


Caffeine Withdrawal Recognized as a Disorder - Johns Hopkins Medicine

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

Matthew Walker on JRE