Virtual Caffeine and What It Can Do For You And Your Tiredness
For years I found myself falling asleep at the most inopportune times. During college lectures, whilst attending very interesting corporate meetings, and when having to complete tasks that I wasn’t enthusiastic about!
Each time, I found that I needed more caffeine, in any of its various forms, to get that woke feeling whilst its effects lasted shorter the more I used it.
Tired of my tiredness, I found other poor souls that wanted to change this sad state of affairs and we came up with V-CAF. A solution to consuming ever-increasing amounts of coffee and caffeine, without the diminishing returns.
What Is V-CAF?
V-CAF is an Apple Watch app that subtly notifies you when you are tired or about to fall asleep. We see it as a digital alternative to caffeine and / or coffee with none of the side effects that are associated with increased caffeine consumption. And unlike coffee or caffeine pills, you only pay once. You get to use it for life for the cost of a cup of coffee or thereabouts!
So What’s This Blog About Then?
V-CAF The Blog is a resource that we created to help inform people about tiredness, sleep related issues such as sleep deprivation and insomnia, and caffeine. It is a collection of our experiences and information that we have found useful related to anything to do with staying awake and tiredness.
We hope that you will find it informative and useful.
A colleague of mine was speaking to me about doing shift work and mentioned how much he hated it.
Luckily for him he only did this once every six weeks and got paid well enough to make it worth his while. I told him to be careful with that and he replied, “I know, working like this can kill you, you know, take you out early (shorten your life)”!
My face must of been a picture, because he then quickly told me about some of the precautions that he has taken to minimise the stress and make the shift work for him.
I’ll share some of his tips for working nights as well as pointing out the effects that sleep deprivation can have on your health.
Our modern way of living and working encourage us to stay up later or miss out on sleep during the night. Whether it be because we are working, playing, surfing the internet or whatever, we are affecting the quality of our sleep without realising it.
For many there is no choice but to have to work during the night, and some have to work during the day as well. This can lead you to feeling miserable and tortured to the point that you start to loath everything and everyone around you.
Your work begins to suffer and you find that you are trying to work harder to make up for the drop in your productivity levels. Something will have to give, but what will it be, the job or your health, or both?
Long Nights and Your Health
Humans are social by nature and the quality of our social connections can have an effect on our health. Good relations tend to make us feel better and as a result have a positive influence on our health, whereas bad relations have the opposite effect.
Working through the night can negatively impact the quality of our family and social connections which in turn has negative effects on our health. This may be a contributing factor as to why nightshift work has been linked to cardiovascular and metabolic diseases as well as cancer.
A study also found that night workers were less likely to exercise and more likely to increase their body mass index. It is an accepted fact that obesity plays a significant role in the development of various diseases such as:
Coronary artery disease
High blood pressure
Colon and breast cancer
Pepłońska, B., Burdelak, W., Krysicka, J., Bukowska, A., Marcinkiewicz, A., Sobala, W., Klimecka-Muszyńska, D., & Rybacki, M. (2014). Night shift work and modifiable lifestyle factors. International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health, 27(5), 693-706.
Another study tested 100 student nurses before and after they worked a three month nightshift period and found that they had:
A loss of interest in their daily activities
Become more sensitive to criticism
A feeling of hopelessness
Healy, P. (1996). Night shift work linked to depression. Nursing Standard, 11(15), 7-7.
When You Have No Choice
Reading the above isn’t pleasant especially if you have to work night shifts, but not all hope is lost and there are things that you can do to minimise the effects of working nights on your health.
Nutrition When talking with my colleague he mentioned that he payed very close attention to his nutrition and what he ate. No junk food, lots of fruit and veg and hardly any alcohol. He also avoided too much caffeine as it would interfere with his sleep when he finished the shift.
Exercise By keeping yourself active you help to reduce the risk of being obese which itself can increase the risk of various diseases that were mentioned in the previous section. Exercise is also a very good way to help lift your mood and make yourself feel better. My coworker makes a point of going for a walk in the forest near where he lives and sometimes he runs or cycles. No matter what type of exercise you choose, make sure it’s something that you like doing which will make it easier for you to do on a regular basis.
Sleep By working nights you are actively fighting against your body’s circadian rhythm which regulates your sleep pattern. Melatonin starts to be released by your body between 9pm and 10pm and stops around 7am. You face an uphill battle when working during these hours just to stay awake.
To make things easier on yourself make sure that you have between 7 to 9 hours of sleep every day, (that includes short naps), and sleep for 2 hours just before the start of your shift.
Staying Awake @ Work It’s difficult but can be done. Just make sure not to work too many nightshifts in a row for a long period of time if you want to reduce the risks that I’ve outlined above.
Using a bright light or sitting in a very bright area will help increase your alertness. Break up tedious tasks with some form of physical activity (like going for a walk or stretching). Also have chat breaks with your coworkers to help stimulate your mind. Tools such as our app V-CAF can help keep you awake by notifying you when you are about to fall asleep and can be used to help remind you to get up and move around.
Remembering the Risks
Many people don’t have a choice and have to work nightshifts. Working like this for the short term minimises the health risks that you are being exposed to.
If possible, like my colleague, try to maximise the periods between working nightshifts (for example, my coworker works the night shift one week in six).
It’s your duty to be informed about the risks that working nightshifts can have on your health, and to take the appropriate actions to help minimise the adverse effects on your health. I’ve outlined some of the information that my colleague gave me and supplemented it with my own research, so please use this post as your starting point for your own research.
Make The Change
Shift work is hard. If you are on a nightshift and reading this article, I don’t want to make you feel bad. The same goes for those that work long hours and don’t get enough sleep.
Just know that it’s good for now, but when you can – make the change. In the meantime look after yourself and stay healthy.
Feeling tired when you have a school, work, or personal deadline looming really is the worst. No matter how many cups of coffee is drunk or how many breaks that you take, nothing seems to be making the difference.
The effect of tiredness on your work can be compared to working after having a few drinks at lunch time. This in itself can make you feel frustrated and decrease your productivity even more.
That’s without taking into account the effect on the quality of your work. At best, the drop in quality in your work can be seen as you not putting in enough effort, at worst, being incompetent.
Tiredness Was Wining, I Wasn’t
The Slog (or the grind), can really demotivate you and sap your will to carry on when you are tired. We all have bad days once in a while, but when they become more frequent they can be quite worrying.
I my case I found myself making avoidable mistakes and had difficulty in focusing on my tasks. Not only did this have the effect of me looking less than capable, but also started to mess with my own view of my skills. It got to the point where I was constantly second guessing myself just to make sure that I didn’t make any mistakes (which in turn affected how much work I could get done)!
Affects your memory
Reduces your concentration
And can negatively effect your motivation
Look out for these tiredness symptoms whilst working, to identify if your work efficiency and quality are reducing:
Loss of interest
Not wanting to talk to anyone
The best hack isn’t really a hack, but more common sense, and that is to get enough sleep. How much is enough? That depends on you and your body but as a rule of thumb make sure you get enough sleep so that you don’t feel tired during the following day.
To find this out, make a point of going to bed at the same time every day for a week, so that you have enough time when you wake up to still get ready for the day ahead. Note what times you wake up and how you felt during the next day. By the end of the week you should have a rough guide to your body’s sleeping rhythms and how long to sleep for.
Other hacks include:
Get good quality sleep as well as quantity. You’ll find that having good quality sleep can actually reduce the time that you spend sleeping. What is good quality sleep? According to the National Sleep Foundation:
Sleeping more time while in bed (at least 85 percent of the total time)
Where possible reduce your workload or reorganise it. Make sure to prioritise your sleep, work and play (in that order). If your workload becomes too great, then try to reschedule or don’t commit to taking on new work until you have cleared your current tasks. Whatever you do, try not to cut into your sleep time.
Avoid caffeine in all its shapes and forms after midday. This will be tough for some, but caffeine can stay in your system up to 8 hours after ingesting it. And as caffeine is known to reduce the quality of your sleep, it can make you feel even more tired after the effects of caffeine have worn off.
Don’t nap for more than 25 minutes during the day. And avoid sleeping after dinner!
The New Way
Using the above mentioned points as a guide has helped me to feel less tired during the day, especially whilst working. I have also increased the amount of exercise that I do, am drinking more water and getting better results because of it.
However, the biggest productivity hack where I could see the results immediately was when I started testing our app V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert.
The idea behind the app was to have an alert that would tell us when we are on our way to being tired or sleepy so that we could take a natural break. This way we could consistently produce high quality work by not working whilst we are tired.
V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert does just that. It’s an Apple Watch app that works with your heart rate to alert you when you are tired. The alert is a vibrating nudge (if the Apple Watch is in silent mode, otherwise an alarm and nudge), which discreetly lets you know that you need to take a break.
I’ve used V-CAF while in meetings and working, and it’s great. In meetings it’s kept me focused on the discussions that can seem to go on forever, and whilst working its kept me from working long stretches without breaks by notifying me that alertness levels have dropped.
Although no one thing listed can keep you more awake than getting enough sleep, using V-CAF in combination with the suggestions in this post has made a big difference in the teams’ and my productivity.
From Here Onwards
Get enough good quality sleep. Nothing beats that. Make it a priority and stick with it!
That said, using the other suggestions in this post will help you to get good quality sleep daily.
There are no shortcuts to productivity, but there are things that you can do to help improve it, and number one on that list is to reduce your tiredness.
A lot of people don’t realise that they have a caffeine dependency. Usually they don’t notice how caffeine influences how they feel throughout the day and how it even affects the quality of their sleep.
Realisation, when it comes, can be sudden and brutal! The blow to their self esteem can be massive and make them feel like their world has ended.
And to be blunt, it has, but not in the way that they may think.
Addictions don’t happen over night, they grow on you. The substance or behaviour starts off by making you feel good. Gradually you start to crave more and more, eventually leading to bingeing bouts.
These binging bouts help form habits in the addict that eventually lead to addiction. The addict soon finds that it becomes difficult to function normally when they don’t get their fix.
Unfortunately, they find that their fix is not enough to overcome the withdrawal symptoms. Soon their sense of well being is dependent on how long they can survive until their next fix.
The cruel thing about addictions is that many don’t realise that they even have an addiction, and if it’s pointed out to them they becomes defensive.
In my own case with caffeine, I thought that I was in control and could stop at any time that I wanted. People warned me and I felt that I knew best until my hands started shaking after drinking too much coffee.
For many caffeine addicts it’s all too easy to dismiss the tell tale signs of addiction and withdrawal as just down to not feeling well, or being tired.
As a test to see if you have a caffeine addiction, try giving up caffeine in all forms for three days, starting from now. If you feel you suffer from any of the listed symptoms, you may have a caffeine addiction:
Inability to focus
Using the Darkness
If you feel that you might be addicted to caffeine, it’s not all doom and gloom. The fact that you are aware of it is a good sign. The next step is to figure out what to do about it , if anything.
Having an addiction of any kind may be a sign that things in your life aren’t as you would like them to be. The addiction is your subconscious ’s way of letting you know that you need to pay attention to something that you are neglecting about yourself.
There is no quick fix to an addiction and relapses are common. If you take the time to observe and learn about yourself, not only will you eventually find out what is driving you to the addiction, but you’ll also find a wealth of positive aspects about your own nature that you may have taken for granted.
Also, by continually observing and learning about yourself you’ll be in a better position to figure out the times and scenarios when your cravings are at their highest, and as such take precautions to minimise or avoid them.
In addition to observing yourself and finding out what your caffeine addiction’s triggers are, you can also help your cause by:
Getting more sleep A good nights sleep is crucial for overcoming a caffeine addiction. Your willpower is stronger and intention is more focused after good quality sleep, which makes it easier to get over your cravings.
Exercising more When you feel lethargic, get your body moving. The act of walking helps wake you up, which is what many people say they drink coffee and tea for.
Using alternatives to caffeine to help keep you awake A rising trend is to drink herbal teas and fruit juices as a tasty alternative to drinking caffeine. The idea is to drink the alternatives when you feel the craving for a coffee or tea coming on. Our take on the problem is to use V-CAF, our Apple Watch app. It works by letting you know when you are tired so that you can take a break from whatever you are doing and wake yourself up.
Reading this article was the easy part. Now the true test of inner strength begins.
Use the points and tips in this article to help you beat your caffeine addiction, but also use your addiction as a catalyst for change for the better.
Unfortunately it turned it to be a puff piece, celebrating the rise in coffee’s popularity across the world, especially in Asia. Although I have nothing against coffee itself, what struck me was the constant reinforcement of the idea that coffee fuels your brain to get things done.
Frustrated at the blatant misrepresentation of the effects that coffee has on our bodies, I decided to do my bit, however small, to redress the balance.
Conventional wisdom states that if you have to stay awake and be alert, few things work better than coffee.
People’s own experience with coffee seems to prove this to be the case, as an ever growing amount of people turn to coffee to get them going in the morning.
In fact many people feel that they can’t function at their peak performance levels without having their daily coffee fix. For example, it’s rare these days for me to attend a meeting where nobody is sipping a coffee.
Socially acceptable, and as the documentary shows, growing in popularity, the coffee industry’s profits are set to head for the stars.
“In terms of liquid beverage equivalents, coffee belongs among the most-drunk beverages worldwide with roughly 42.6 litres per person and year (12.6 litres of Roast Coffee and 30 litres of Instant Coffee).
Another trend is the redefinition of coffee from commodified caffeination to sensual experience which has driven premiumization.“
The big coffee companies are trying to increase the demand for their products with the aim of boosting their incomes and profits. What’s often overlooked and even dismissed by some is the effect of coffee on the health of consumers.
The Cost to Your Health
For adults, coffee is the most consumed caffeinated beverage. A lot of people see coffee as the go to pick me up without giving a second thought to what it might be doing to their bodily system.
The FDA recommends a daily intake of two to three cups of coffee per day, but many have at least four cups or more.
The long term habitual consumption of coffee can have detrimental effects to your health.
Some of the more common side effects of too much coffee include:
Redressing the Balance
To avoid the risks associated with long term coffee consumption reduce the amount of caffeine that you consume per day.
Take the time to observe your daily habits. For example write down the times of day that you find yourself craving a coffee as well as where, with whom and what you were doing. If your aim is to reduce the amount of coffee you drink, choose a time that you regularly have a cup and replace the coffee with a glass of water or other beverage (as long as it doesn’t contain caffeine).
Eat healthy. Just eating healthy alone will not boost your energy; that comes from taking more informed lifestyle choices. That said, cutting down on the amount of sugar you eat, eating more wholegrain or wholemeal starchy carbohydrates (which will give you a slower more sustained release of energy), and getting enough iron (from eating beans, nuts, liver, dried fruit and dark green leafy vegetables), can go some way to helping you feel more energised over time.
Get enough sleep. As stated earlier, drinking coffee doesn’t boost your energy, it blocks your brains adenosine receptors, tricking your body into thinking that it is not tired. By reducing (or eliminating) coffee and caffeine from your diet, you can get back in line with your body’s circadian rhythm and optimise your sleep, which in turn will make you feel less tired during your waking hours.
Exercise more. Exercise has been proven to boost your mind’s focus and concentration, as well as increasing your fitness levels. What is sometimes missed is that it also helps you have better, deeper sleep sessions. And as an extra benefit the quality of your sleep is increased immediately.
Media corporations put out a lot of information everyday on many topics from across the world.
It is difficult to get points across without having to resort to cultural shortcuts to get a point of view across. As a result, sometimes, unwittingly these corporations can overlook the implications of what they broadcast.
Which is why informed individuals should speak up when they notice something that may mislead or confuse.
Reading this, the chances are that you already know what has been stated in this post and I thank you for your time.
If there is anyone you feel would benefit from this article please share.
There is so much focus on productivity and organization that often the fundamental issues that impair both can be overlooked. Tiredness is difficult to quantify and varies from person to person and situation. A myriad of factors can lead even the best intentions to spiral. These factors can include, illness, stress, nutrition, depth of sleep and even dehydration.
Invariably, we all have different demands in our lives that we try to prioritize. Living in a social media driven society means we can have unrealistic views of progress and success. One of the keys to success is to have a defined goal with clear objectives that gives scope for practice, experience & mistakes to build into progress. Unfortunately all your efforts can be hampered by not knowing how tired you are. It may sound incredulous but knowing you are tired is not enough. If we take the example of the battery, it should be clear. A device functions at maximum capacity but when the batteries are low, the speed at which the device functions is altered. It may operate slowly or turn on and off before it stops completely.
Two benefits are presented to you by knowing how tired you actually are. Firstly, the observation of your pattern of peak alertness and the duration until you begin to succumb to your circadian rhythm, will show you the hiatus that is your window of productivity. Secondly, by having this information you can organize schedules to maximize this time span. This information has advantages also for those in your group or team, whom you perhaps manage. Better communication strengthens relationships and saves time. The possibilities for increased clarity, focus and energy can lead to heightened experiences of even the perceivably mundane.
You are well aware of some of the most espoused steps necessary to move away from feeling tired all the time. However it is important to realize that a combination of these steps will be the most effective. Hydration is perhaps one of the factors that can fall under the radar as we can often misread thirst as hunger. If you are consuming any beverage that contains caffeine or alcohol, it is important to balance this with water as caffeine and alcohol dehydrate. This is further increased when consuming these drinks on a flight.
Getting six to eight hours sleep per night is a mission but it is a worthy goal to strive for as there is no way to catch up on sleep at the weekend. Our bodies are in a constant state of flux and will not wait to build & repair. Each time you lose sleep, compromises will be made on the mind and body. Instead of getting to eleven at night before you feel you can have some down time. Try to shift whatever you can by increments of half an hour until you have allocated the time you need to relax before bed during the week. There are a myriad of apps to help with schedules and using V-CAF will help you see the best times of the day for you. Of course there is no need to be rigid. This is about finding out what works for you. With consistent effort and patience, you’ll begin to feel less over-whelmed and make the most of your energy & time.
It’s easily done. You have a tight deadline, the works not finished but you reckon if you put the extra time in now, you can salvage your reputation and get everything done.
There are times when you just have to burn the midnight oil to get things done and it’s understandable. But recently I’ve been noticing that people seem to think that this type of effort is normal if you want to get things done and get ahead.
Officially corporations, government bodies and global institutions talk a good talk about work life balance, but honestly, does that ring true with your everyday experiences?
Are over worked and over stressed employees really as productive as those in charge think?
Have you ever found yourself staying at work for longer than you needed? That includes skipping lunch, coming in early and staying late and cancelling holidays.
Or how about agreeing to an unreasonable deadline and not having a plan outside of working long hours until the work is done, to meet it?
During these difficult economic times it can be challenging to say no to the impossible deadlines; or working within your limits instead of the arbitrary hours of what the workplace culture dictates (outside of your contracted hours, of course).
If you are either one of the lucky few that like your work so much that you just can’t tear yourself away, or if you feel that you must be seen to be a ‘good worker’, workaholism can be very destructive.
What’s The Cost?
Compulsion is a horrible condition to have. It robs you of your self esteem and makes you feel like a hostage to your own life.
The time that you spend doing work related tasks is time taken away from:
Doing the things that can enhance your life
Time taken away from loved ones
And time stollen from your self worth.
Everyone who can work should work, but as with the case with most things in life, balance is key. An unbalanced work life often leads to:
Balance cannot be achieved through a dictate from up on high, but must be actively pursued. What that means is that you must make more balanced choices in order to improve your quality of life.
But How Can I Change?
The first step to implementing any kind of long lasting valuable change is to truly acknowledge that a change is needed in the first place.
Without that, change can still be achieved but you risk making your task more difficult than it needs to be, and you can find yourself just going through the motions.
Still, sometimes going through the motions actually helps you to implement the change anyway, so above all just start.
Implement any of these points as you see fit to help you stay the course and become more productive.
Plan you work and break it down into manageable chunks.
Where possible aim for more reasonable deadlines.
Include down time in your work plans.
Prioritise getting enough good quality sleep.
Take regular breaks when working on your tasks. We created an Apple Watch app called V-CAF to help you with that. It alerts you when you start to feel tired reminding you to take a break and reenergise yourself before getting back to work.
Set hard to break after work appointments with your family/friends and block the time in your work calendar.
A Brief Summary
We’ve gone over a lot so here’s the summary:
Workaholism reduces productivity and increases stress.
Time spent obsessing over work tasks is time taken away from other priorities in your life.
Make a commitment to change your work life balance and implement steps (like those listed above) that will help you stay the course.
Workaholism is a drain on your health, your personal life and work life!
To increase your productivity you may have to decrease the amount of work you do.
The choices you make regarding your work life affect all areas of your life. Hopefully you’ll choose a balanced life.
It can be depressing. You have a deadline to meet or a heavy workload, but feel confident that you can meet your objectives.
Then as you get deeper into your tasks you start to feel a little overwhelmed and find that your efforts aren’t quite hitting the mark.
You increase your efforts but frustration and even a little anger might start to set in. And to top it off you’re feeling exhausted!
Now you’ve reached the tipping point. As you become more drained the likelihood of you making mistakes increase whilst simultaneously decreasing your efficiency.
Working Whilst Tired
It’s been proven that you increase the potential to make mistakes when working during tiredness. So why do so many people do it?
I believe that it’s partially due to people possessing less body awareness nowadays. It’s a similar situation to people not realising that they’re thirsty until it can’t be ignored anymore.
Another responsible factor is overloading. A never ending growing list of responsibilities and tasks lay pressure on the mind and distract you from paying attention to what your body and mind are telling you.
The lack of sensitivity to tiredness may also be linked to the amount of stimulants that are available for us to consume, which has helped to blunt our ability to recognise the tell tale signs that tell us we need to take a break.
If we don’t learn to pay attention to the signals, we are ultimately setting ourselves up for:
Working Through Tiredness
Just because I’m tired it doesn’t mean I don’t have to hit my targets. It’s a sign that I have to take time management more seriously and make better decisions.
During my last slump I used these strategies to get me over that hump:
Prioritised Sleep Yep. I planned my waking hours around my sleep. What this meant in practical terms was that I had set times to wake up and go to sleep. No working past at least an hour before I went to bed. For me I set my bed time for 10:00 and woke up around 06:00 every day, including weekends. The idea here was to get back in sync with my circadian rhythm.
Exercise I’m more of a morning person when it comes to exercise so I did an hours weights and running session soon after waking up. For me I found that it gave me an energy boost and made me feel more alert, so I felt better about the work I had to do for the day. You’ll have to experiment and find a time that works for you, but the aim is to do some exercise every day. Even a ten minute walk helps clear your mind and relax you. It’s a great stress buster and can lift your mood.
Eat Whole Foods and Drink Lots of Water Nutrient dense food works wonders at boosting your mood and energy. Eat dark green leafy vegetables, grass fed cattle, whole milk, free range eggs and chickens, nuts and berries. These are natures gift and provide you with your basic nutritional needs. I’m vegetarian so where I mention meats, I eat more beans and lentils and do food combining, like rice and beans to get what I need. Again experiment to find what works for you. Don’t forget to drink lots of water throughout the day, and stay away from processed foods as much as possible.
Plan Your Work I’ve used Scrum and Kanban to plan what work I’ll do for the week ahead. And as usual, I’ve modified them both to fit my needs and style of work. Again, it’s not about the method, but more about the principals behind the method. In this case, it’s kinda like being back at school and having a class schedule so you knew which classes where on what day and where, but in this case it’s for work you need to get done. Planning ahead helps keep you focused on the work that needs to be done and also gives you a concrete indicator on the amount of work that you’ve done and can also help you to adjust where you put your efforts.
Take Regular Breaks Break up your work sessions into 20-30 minute work periods and make a point focussing only on the work that you have set to do in that time and then take a 5-10 minute break when your current session is done. This is my adjusted version of the Pomodoro technique, so adjust to what fits your concentration spans. In addition to that I also use our tiredness alarm, V-CAF, to let me know that I’m at that point where tiredness will begin to affect my work, so I take a break. It works wonders and I highly recommend it.
Working whilst being tired sucks. Sometimes we just can’t avoid it, but I hope that you at least try some of the tips that I used to get me through my last slump. It’s better than trying to trick yourself into staying awake, and in the long term you’ll feel so much better.
Give these a try:
Making sleep a priority
Eat healthily and drink lots of water throughout the day
Plan your work
Take regular breaks whilst working
It looks like a lot to do just to be able to get things done when you are tired, but it’s not that much. For the cost of a little effort every day the rewards will soon pay you back tenfold.
Being tired is a natural part of being alive. Embrace it for what it is and you’ll soon feel like you can do anything, and probably can.
It’s never been easier to get a quick energy boost when you need it. Plenty of snacks contain caffeine and and are within easy reach via vending machines in schools, offices and train stations.
Due to caffeine’s pervasiveness in foods and drinks, many don’t realise how much caffeine they consume in a day.
Caffeine pills promise an instant energy boost packed into an easily consumed pill. A couple of pills will keep you alert and focussed. A single pill can contain as much caffeine as two cups of coffee (200 mg).
Great, so what? The FDA recommends four or five cups of coffee per day for healthy adults (depending on body weight, medications and individual sensitivity), which works out to be approximately 400 mg of caffeine. Consume just one pill and you are already at half your limit for the day.
And those that do use caffeine pills quite frequently consume more than one or two pills, especially if they have a heavy work or study load.
When you’re in it, it’s difficult to realise that your caffeine consumption is raising your tolerance to the stuff.
I started taking more caffeine pills than the recommended dosage and felt more drained and irritable. I remember blaming it on the fact that I had so much to do and not enough time to get it done.
A good friend of mine told me that it might be best if I slowed down, and would drop hints about the effects that caffeine was having on me.
Looking back I can see it clear as day. I was consuming too much caffeine which was making me feel crap.
Classic symptoms of consuming too much caffeine include:
And sleep disturbances
And then there’s the withdrawal symptoms. A lot of people don’t believe that caffeine is addictive whilst being addicted themselves (I was one of those).
When I first tried to stop I felt the same as when I was increasing the amount of caffeine pills I was taking. This was because I was suffering from withdrawal and didn’t realise it!
Those of you that need a coffee or tea fix in the morning might not realise that the reason you have the craving for caffeine is because you are suffering from withdrawal symptoms. Because you weren’t drinking caffeine or popping pills in your sleep, when you wake up your mind needs the caffeine just to make you feel normal.
Here’s a list of common withdrawal symptoms, tell me if any of them sound familiar to your daily experience:
After I had decided to quit caffeine, my instinct was to look for a safe replacement or alternative that would give me the same awake feeling without the nasty side effects.
Through trial and error I found that the best alternative was to change my lifestyle. By making different choices I found myself gradually feeling a lot better than I ever did when using caffeine pills. I still drink and eat caffeine once in a while, but not to stay awake!
So in no particular order, here are some of the lifestyle changes that I’ve made:
Avoid Caffeine Gradually reduce your dependence on caffeine until you find yourself not craving it anymore (especially when you’re feeling tired or stressed). Be prepared for the withdrawal symptoms, but tough it out and know that in the long term you’ll pull through.
Eat Healthily Eat more iron and magnesium rich foods as a deficiency in either one can make you feel drained. For iron eat spinach and beans; for magnesium, nuts such as cashews and almonds. Eggs are good for protein and are a good source of B vitamins that help turn your food into energy. Eat fruits that are high in vitamin C, like oranges, strawberries, pineapples and kiwis, as they help body fat to be used as energy.
Stay Hydrated By drinking enough water every day, you help your brain to function more efficiently. Dehydration makes it difficult for us to focus and concentrate, so by being hydrated we increase our brains ability to focus and concentrate as well as reduce drowsiness.
Know When You Are Tired A lot of people are so busy or focused on what they are doing that they don’t realise how tired they are until they make mistakes or are feeling frustrated. By being mindful of how you feel you can train yourself to recognise the tell tale signs of fatigue. Using an Apple Watch app like V-CAF, you can be notified when you are tired so that you can stop and take a natural break before continuing with whatever activity you were engaged in.
I made the decision a while ago to not use caffeine pills, and caffeine in general to stay awake just so I can get things done.
The risks to my medium to long term health just weren’t worth the risk for me. What about you?
If you decide you need a change, then why not try out some of the tips that we gave above:
Know when you are tired
Nobody knows you better than you do. Consuming caffeine has benefits as well as drawbacks. The key seems to be balance.
Everyones centre point is unique to themselves. By taking the time to find out about yourself, you eventually will have the instinct to know what works for you.
Spread the word about World Narcolepsy Day, #WorldNarcolepsyDay
I am writing this as it is World Narcolepsy day (September 22nd, 2019). This is the first of hopefully many public awareness campaigns to inform the public at large about narcolepsy and its affects on individuals, their families and society.
People generally have little or no understanding of narcolepsy and so many people don’t even realise that they are suffering from the condition, whilst others are misdiagnosed. The aim of the event is to reverse the current state of affairs and heighten awareness of narcolepsy.
Narcolepsy comes in two types, Narcolepsy type 1 (NT1) and type 2 (NT2), which are neurological diseases. Type 1 Narcolepsy (which used to be called Narcolepsy with cataplexy), is a persistent or long lasting disease whose effects can worsen as time progresses.
The causes of Narcolepsy type 1 are still not confirmed but there are links to genetics, in particular to the loss of hypothalamic neurones that produce neuropeptides orexin-A and orexin-B. However, it has been found that the reduced production orexin-A and -B (also know as hypocretin-1 and -2) doesn’t necessarily lead to the onset of Narcolepsy. NT1 currently affects between 2 to 4 million people worldwide. Ohayon MM, Priest RG, Zulley J, Smime S, Paiva T. Prevalence of narcolepsy symptomatology and diagnosis in the European general population. Neurology. 2002;58:1826-33.
Narcolepsy type 2 has no known cause.
What Are The Common Signs of Narcolepsy
Both types of Narcolepsy share the same symptoms. They can gradually begin to show up in sufferers’ day to day lives, but can also seem to appear suddenly.
The list of symptoms include:
Daytime sleepiness, in many cases this can be quite severe, which has been ongoing for at least 3 months
Difficulty focussing and staying awake at work or whilst studying or when sitting or standing still.
Sudden emotionally triggered episodes of muscle weakness accompanied by either full or partial collapse (cataplexy).
Dreamlike hallucinations whilst awake.
Can have a tendency to gain excess weight.
Due to other sleep disorders having similar symptoms, individuals may not recognise that they are sufferers and be misdiagnosed. One key factor that may be able to distinguish narcolepsy from other sleep disorders is that commonly with other disorders, most don’t feel refreshed and rested after waking up in the morning; but most people with narcolepsy generally feel alert after waking up. Scammell, T. (2015). Narcolepsy. The New England Journal of Medicine, 373(27), 2654-2662.
Practical Steps to Help Relieve The Symptoms
If you have any concerns that you may be a sufferer, please consult your medical advisor to be diagnosed for narcolepsy.
If you have concerns about someone you know, let them know in a manner that you think that they will appreciate, that they may need to see a medical professional. Tact is called for here.
As there are no know cures for narcolepsy, treatment is over a long period of time which includes medications and lifestyle changes.
Medications are prescribed on a risk to benefits ratio which means that most of the drugs have side effects. The time and the amount a patient takes as their daily dosage depends on the benefits gained by using the drugs compared to the risk of side effects. Below is a table that I found whilst looking into medications for narcolepsy.
Lifestyle changes for many help increase the effectiveness of any medication that they have been prescribed, or are a better alternative as they make them feel more in control of their own lives, without dependencies.
Getting 7 to 8 hours sleep regularly.
Going to bed and waking up at regular times.
Taking short scheduled naps throughout the day (no more than 20-30 minutes).
Avoiding using caffeine to stay awake during the day.
Eating more healthily.
And exercising more.
Narcolepsy is a disease that effects 1 in 2000 people.
There are two types of narcolepsy NT1 and NT2 and there is no confirmed cause (although evidence tends to point to the loss of hypothalamic neurones that produce neuropeptides orexin-A and orexin-B for NT1).
Many of the symptoms of narcolepsy are a leading reason for it not being diagnosed.
There is no cure, although medication and life style changes can help reduce the effects of narcolepsy.
Before studying for my final exams, I used to drink coffee, cola drinks and tea every day. It never occurred to me that I might have been addicted to the caffeine in them.
When people told me about the addictive nature of caffeine, I thought that they were exaggerating. I even did a couple of challenges where I didn’t have any caffeine for a day to prove that I wasn’t addicted and that they were wrong.
Well, I like learning the hard way and as the years have gone by, I’ve looked into what research I could find to find out one way or the other.
So, let’s see if we can work out if caffeine is addictive?
Because caffeine is consumed by so many people on a regular basis it is easy to overlook or forget that it is a stimulant.
During one of my caffeine abstinences I was called out for eating chocolate and found myself arguing that it doesn’t count, (oops)!
Another time I found myself justifying drinking tea (earl grey) very often by telling myself it was okay because I don’t drink too much coffee.
A few years back I started doing three day fasts to cleanse. On one particular occasion I decided not to have any coffee to perk me up. As I hadn’t drunk so much coffee during other fasting sessions, I thought that this would be a piece of cake.
How wrong I was. Not only was it one of the most difficult fasts that I had gone through, I found myself feeling very irritable, suffering from headaches and hot and cold flushes.
If you’ve experienced any of the above, then you can probably guess that it was likely that I was suffering from classic withdrawal symptoms. From subconsciously consuming caffeine, to justifying my behavior, I realized that I may just have a slight dependency on caffeine.
Caffeine Cognitive Bias
“Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Over the years, what I’ve noticed is that I defend positions that I hold as valuable to my identification of what I believe is myself.
To explain this a little better let’s take my caffeine challenges. Could I give up caffeine for a short period of time? If I could, then why did I go back to consuming it again?
In environments such as the workplace and schooling, people like being seen as busy and productive. It implies that you are motivated to do the best that you can regardless of whether or not you feel tired.
When feeling tired and in need of a pick me up, a lot of people drink coffee or take an energy drink. It’s just the thing to do because it works and is convenient.
But does caffeine really work? What if it’s the caffeine that is making us feel tired, causing our headaches, and making us feel down when we abstain for even a few hours?
The difficulty with any addiction is being able to recognize that you are addicted, and once you do, to give up the addiction. It was easier for me to delude myself that I wasn’t addicted to caffeine rather than to face the addiction and overcome it.
Figuring Things Out
Understanding about the effects of caffeine helped me to be able to control my cravings. The wisdom I gained from seeking out information coupled with my own experiences helped me to help myself.
Any addiction can seem to be too difficult to give up, but by changing your perspective and mindset you can start to overcome it gradually, (unfortunately there are no quick fixes when it comes to addiction).
“Fortunately for serious minds, a bias recognized is a bias sterilized.”
Many people believe as I once did that caffeine is not addictive, but countless studies prove that it has all the attributes of an addictive substance:
Withdrawal is difficult because many of the symptoms are mistakenly thought of as reasons to consume caffeine:
Reduced cognitive performance
General unease or dissatisfaction
The symptoms of caffeine withdrawal can start as soon as 12 hours after your last intake and can last between 2 days and 2 weeks.
To reduce the effects of withdrawal, gradually remove caffeine from your diet.
Dilute caffeinated drinks so that reduce the amount of caffeine you consume at each serving.
Where possible use caffeine alternatives such as water and fruit juices and decaffeinated versions of your favorite products.
Get better quality sleep so that your body and mind get the rest they need so as to reduce the cravings for caffeine.
Having the correct mindset goes a long way towards helping you overcome your caffeine addiction.
Don’t be in denial about your addiction. Own it and take action to overcome it.
Find out as much as you can about caffeine and its effects on your mind and body.
Seek professional help if you are not sure about anything.
There are no quick fixes, come to terms with that fact and gradually change your dietary habits and lifestyle.
Take the First Step
Caffeine is addictive. To some more than others. By reading this article you already have taken one of many steps towards understanding caffeine addiction.
But don’t stop at just reading, make a commitment towards taking positive physical action.
Each step you take is another closer to your goal. Good Luck.
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