Categories
Caffeine Caffeine Alternative Focus Irritability Productivity Side Effects Staying Awake Tiredness

Stay Awake pills, are they worth the risk?

Stay Awake pills, are they worth the risk?

Nothing ventured…

In the past when I had a lot of work to get finished, a tight deadline, or studying for exams I would use caffeine to help me focus and stay awake.

I started to be concerned when I found that I needed more caffeine just to stay awake and focused, until eventually I got the jitters!

After doing some research I decided to stop taking caffeine and in particular caffeine pills.

In this article I’ll be sharing some of the things that I found out about caffeine and why I think taking caffeine pills to stay awake and study or work wasn’t worth the risk.

Working Through Tiredness
Photo by Carl Raw @carltraw on Unsplash, Southport, United Kingdom, Take a photo of your arcade, play around with the lighting in Lightroom. It’s fun.

Ease of Access

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.

Diminishing Returns

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:

  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Palpitations
  • Tremors
  • 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:

  • Nervous irritability
  • Tremors
  • Palpitations
  • Gastrointestinal disturbances
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

The Alternatives

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.

Review

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:

  • Avoid Caffeine
  • Eat Healthily
  • Stay Hydrated
  • Know when you are tired

Last Thoughts

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.

Thanks for reading.

Categories
Narcolepsy Staying Awake Tiredness

World Narcolepsy Day

World Narcolepsy Day

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.

World Narcolepsy Day
Photo by Jon Tyson @jontyson on Unsplash

What Is 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.
  • Fragmented sleep.
  • Can have a tendency to gain excess weight.
  • Depression.

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.

Medications used to treat narcolepsy
Barateau, L., Lopez, R., & Dauvilliers, Y. (2016). Management of Narcolepsy. Current Treatment Options in Neurology, 18(10), 1-13.

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.

These include:

  • 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.

Review

  • 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.

What Next

Help support World Narcolepsy Day by going to Celebrate World Narcolepsy Day – Narcolepsy Network Narcolepsy Network and use the hashtag #WorldNarcolepsyDay

If you liked this article please share it and help us by signing up for information and discount codes for our tiredness alert app V-CAF that will be released soon.

Categories
Addiction Caffeine Caffeine Addiction Caffeine Alternative Productivity

Is Caffeine Addictive?

Am I Addicted To Caffeine?

You Know…

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?

Life Begins After Coffee
Photo by Jorge Franco @francofotografogdl on Unsplash, Egresado ya hace unos años de la Lic. Diseño para la Comunicación gráfica, contaba ya con un conocimiento previo de fotografía y edición, mi trabajo me ha demandado cada vez mas la fotografía así que decidí tomar un curso, un curso que impartió un viejo amigo y colega, con sus conocimientos compartidos a sus alumnos, nos pusimos a practicar teniendo buenos resultados. esta fotografía es la primera después de tomar el curso donde note una evolución, por esa razón la comparto al resto del planeta. Saludos cordiales Jorge (GEORGITO) Franco

I Don’t Have A Caffeine Addiction

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.”

Benjamin Haydon

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:

  • Dependence
  • Tolerance
  • And Withdrawal

Withdrawal is difficult because many of the symptoms are mistakenly thought of as reasons to consume caffeine:

  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced cognitive performance
  • General unease or dissatisfaction
  • Sore muscles
  • Depression

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.

Review

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.

Categories
Alert Caffeine Focus Productivity Staying Awake Study Studying

Coffee vs Tea for Studying

Choose Your Poison

Study This Study About Studying

In the past when studying for exams or to learn a new subject at work, I resorted to coffee and/or caffeine pills to keep me alert.

Some colleagues used to tell me to drink tea as it does less harm to your body than coffee. Others swore that coffee is the best at keeping you alert and getting the job done, and did I know “that green tea contains more caffeine than coffee?”

After looking at the little research that’s out there, I figured out what was best for me and outline how I came to that conclusion in this article.

Coffee or Tea? Which One Is Better?
Photo by Dan Preindl @preindl on Unsplash, Little Bourke Street, Melbourne, Australia

Depending on Coffee or Tea for Alertness

For a lot of people, drinking coffee or tea helps them feel more alert and therefore more productive whilst working. 

Whenever I had a difficult subject to study for, or was feeling tired, I would instinctively go for a cup of coffee, which once drunk, made me feel that I could get the work done. 

For others, like my friend Jason, tea was the way to go. He felt that he didn’t get such a fast caffeine high, and therefore caffeine low as when he drunk coffee, whilst still feeling more alert than he did before he drunk his tea. “Each to their own”, I used to reply.

I now think that Jason might have been onto something. Although tea contains more caffeine than coffee in its dry form, once brewed, coffee has significantly more caffeine than tea (depending on the types of tea and coffee being compared).

Further, according to TeaClass.com:

“The high levels of antioxidants found in tea slow the absorption of caffeine – this results in a gentler increase of the chemical in the system and a longer period of alertness with no crash at the end.”

The Truth About Caffeine

Jason was right and I was wrong. Better switch over to drinking tea to get more productive, right?

Is Drinking Either Coffee or Tea the Solution?

The thing is, is that both coffee and tea contain caffeine; a stimulant that tricks your brain into thinking that it’s not as tired as it really is, and as a result makes you think that you are more alert and productive.

Back to feelings. Many confuse the feeling of alertness that caffeine induces to be a sign of the potential for increased productivity and enhanced mental performance. Unfortunately, just like how caffeine tricks the brain into thinking that it is less tired than it really is, this enhanced productivity is also a delusion.

“While caffeine benefits motor performance and tolerance develops to its tendency to increase anxiety/jitteriness, tolerance to its effects on sleepiness means that frequent consumption fails to enhance mental alertness and mental performance.”

Rogers, Peter, Susan Heatherley, Emma Mullings, and Jessica Smith. “Faster but not smarter: effects of caffeine and caffeine withdrawal on alertness and performance.” Psychopharmacology 226.2 (2013): 229-240.

So, What Works?

Getting more quality sleep works best, hands down. The benefits of regular, good quality sleep are so numerous, I’ll have to write a separate article detailing them.

In the meantime, here are some tips that you can use to help your study/work be more effective:

  • Get into Rhythm 
    Organize your life to match your body’s circadian rhythm. Wake up at around 7am (melatonin stops being released by this time).
    Do your most important work between 10am and 12pm.
    Between 12pm-2pm is usually when we have our midafternoon crash, so avoid difficult work during this time.
    Our body hits peak energy around 6:30pm so if you’re still working start to slowly wind down your efforts.
    Resist the temptation to pull an all-nighter, and try to get to bed around 10pm.
  • Drink Water
    Keeping yourself hydrated will help keep you alert whilst keeping fatigue and tiredness at bay and reducing the risk of headaches and poor concentration.
  • Take Regular Breaks
    When you feel yourself getting fatigued, take a break and get up and move around. 
    The reality is, is that most people don’t realize when they are tired until they are so tired that it can’t be ignored! V-CAF is an Apple Watch app that subtly notifies you to move around and take a natural break when your body says that you are tired.
  • Exercise
    Take the time to incorporate exercise into your daily routine. It could be as simple as a 25-30 minute walk each day or walking upstairs instead of taking the elevator. Exercise helps improve your focus and concentration as well as increasing the quality of your sleep. And the effects can be felt immediately. 

Review

If you have to choose between coffee and tea to help keep you awake, then I would suggest tea. However, I think this is a false dichotomy. The third option is to avoid caffeine and make lifestyle changes that in the long term benefit your health as well as your productivity.

Some of these choices include:

  • Get into your body’s circadian rhythm.
  • Drink more water
  • Take Regular Breaks and use a tool such as V-CAF that subtly notifies you to move around and take a natural break.
  • Exercise regularly.

Conclusion

Study and work goals are important parts of our lives, but not the only part.

One of the most fundamental parts of our lives is sleep. By sacrificing our sleep, we are damaging all other parts of our lives.

Knowing that a single night of sleep deprivation can decrease our cognitive performance by 30%, does it really make sense to reduce the amount of time we spend sleeping to get more studying/work done?

Categories
Alert Driving Fatigue Focus Productivity Safety Staying Awake Tiredness

How To Stay Awake While Driving

Stay Awake, Stay Alert

V-CAF, The App, Can Help

Most of us have to commute to work daily. In America, 76% of us drive to work. Worldwide, commute times are getting longer:

Commute_full_list
Infogram

In a study of UK drivers in 1997, 29% of drivers who took part in the study admitted to almost falling asleep at the wheel.
Maycock, G. “Sleepiness and driving: The experience of U.K. car drivers.” Accident Analysis & Prevention 29.4 (1997): 453-462.

Whilst a later study by the National Sleep Foundation found that more than 37% of American drivers admitted to the same thing.
National Sleep Foundation’s 2005 Sleep in America

With average commute times getting longer what can concerned drivers do to stay awake whilst driving?

How To Stay Awake While Driving
Photo by Zeus @zeus1007 on Unsplash

Why Are We Driving Tired?

We have never been as free as we are now to do so much. Computers and new work processes have made us increase productivity, but this has come at a cost.

Being more efficient has raised the bar on what is expected of us and to make up the shortfall we work harder than ever.

In the UK drivers’ study, when asked what caused them to fall asleep at the wheel, the most common reason was a “Long working day or physical or mental exhaustion”.

Another cited reason and contributing factor are the rise in people reporting sleep disorders and people going to bed late and waking up early. Lack of sleep increases the risk that drivers will fall asleep at the wheel.

A Danger to Ourselves and Others

Not only does drowsy driving put yourself, passengers and other road users at risk, fatigued related driving costs society approximately $109 billion a year.

The exact number of accidents caused by drowsy driving is difficult to calculate as it depends on drivers admitting they fell asleep to police. It is estimated that more than 6,400 fatal crashes happen every year and that 21% of fatal crashes are caused by tired drivers.           

How To Stay Awake While Driving

Having good sleep hygiene habits in general are the best way to reduce your general tiredness and will help you to reduce tiredness whilst you drive.

  • Regular good quality sleep
    Get to bed between 9pm and 10pm when melatonin starts to be released by your body, and get between 7 to 8 hours sleep (especially on the days when you have a long commute).

  • Don’t drive if you’ve had a long day
    If you’ve been awake for more than 16 hours or are feeling especially fatigued, avoid driving. This is difficult so it might be best to either car share and plan that on your busiest days you don’t drive, or make arrangements for someone to pick you up.

  • Take breaks when you feel tired 
    If you find yourself repeatedly yawning and find it difficult to keep your eyes open (or continuous blinking), stop and take a 20 minute snooze. The problem is that most people don’t realize that they are tired until way after the fact. Tiredness alarms such as V-CAF notify you when your body says that you are tired so that you can take the necessary actions to avoid falling asleep.
  • Avoid driving if you have drunk alcohol or taken medication
    These can increase the likelihood of you falling asleep at the wheel, and make your drive harder.

Review

If you are feeling tired, it’s best not to try to drive. Drinking caffeine, opening your window and listening to loud music can only go so far.

If you must drive:

  • On the days that you have to drive, try to get at least 7 hours sleep before driving.
  • Make sure you haven’t been awake for more than 16 hours before you drive.
  • Use V-CAF to tell you when you are tired so that you can take breaks whilst driving.
  • Don’t drink alcohol or take medications before driving.

Conclusion

Driving whilst you are tired is not a good idea and should be avoided. This calls for action on your part to prioritize your sleep.

Lifestyle changes are never easy but with persistence and focus you can do it. By taking small steps everyday towards this goal by using our suggestions will not only help you with tiredness whilst driving, but with your productivity in general.