Categories
Alert Caffeine Caffeine Addiction Caffeine Alternative Fatigue Focus Insomnia Lethargy Productivity Sleepiness Staying Awake Tiredness

When Caffeine Just Doesn’t Cut It Anymore

When Too Much Becomes Too Little

It’s time to change…

During one of our insanely busy work cycles, Darren looked limp and worn down. In our daily meetings he just stared into the distance, occasionally checking his watch.

As time went on I noticed more often than not that some management types would pull him to one side and have what looked to be an intense discussion about something that they felt the need to point out to him.

Then one day Darren came over to me and asked if we could have a quick chat over a coffee. We found a quiet corner, him with a mug of joe in his hand and me with water in mine, and Darren came out bluntly and asked “How do I do it?”

When Coffee Doesnt Do It
Photo by @potochnyi via Twenty20

The Promise

Confused I responded and said something like “Do what?”. The reply I got back shocked me. “You always seem to be with it. It’s rare that I see you getting angry or upset.”.

Now I got where this was going. In the past I’d been fairly stressed out and not working at my best. I looked sleepy and some would come by my desk and tell me to wake up!

Under pressure to perform, I started drinking diet sodas with caffeine to help keep me awake. But before long, I found myself needing more sodas to just feel normal and staying alert became harder.

 

Getting Let Down

It wasn’t long before my increased caffeine consumption started to affect my sleep. Most evenings between 6 and 7 I would go from feeling lethargic to suddenly being hyper alert.

At the time I put it down to finding work boring and that because the evening wasn’t all about work my mood picked up. But as it became normal for me to be wide awake at 3am laying in bed, I knew that something was wrong.

Also, when it was time to wake up I felt like I hadn’t slept. This feeling would continue until about 10ish after I had my first diet soda of the day. But after lunch until I got back home was a struggle.

It became so bad that my manager asked if I had a sleep condition and told me to fix up as other workers were noticing that I would nod off in front of my screen.

As Darren listened to what I was saying he nodded, laughed and said that he remembered those days and in fact a manager had told him to talk to me to find out what I did to turns things around.

What Darren and I appeared to be suffering from was a bad mix of unhealthy sleep practices and a raised tolerance to caffeine. Because caffeine blocks our brain’s adenosine receptors, our body found it difficult to work out if we were tired.

Adenosine is a chemical released by our body throughout the day. As the amount of adenosine builds our tiredness increases which let’s us know that it’s time to wind down and get ready for sleep.

Caffeine blocks our brain from being able to correctly measure how tired we are and so tricks us into thinking that we are more awake than we really are. To make matters worse, caffeine can stay in our system from between 7 – 15 hours depending on our weight and age.

Because I was drinking so much caffeinated sodas throughout the day I was actively blocking my body from being able to regulate itself which in turn led to me being too awake by bedtime, but tired throughout the day.

A Better Way

I told Darren that I tried a few different approaches, but the best results came from getting more quality sleep and reducing, then removing caffeine from my diet.

  • Avoiding Caffeine
    I stopped drinking caffeine straight away, but it may be best to take it slowly and gradually reduce the amount of caffeine that you consume. This boils down to how bad your withdrawal symptoms are and what is going on in your life at the time.
  • Eating Healthily
    Eat more iron. magnesium, and protein rich foods like beans, nuts, spinach and eggs as a deficiency in any of these can make you feel drained.
  • Staying Hydrated
    Dehydration makes it difficult for you to focus and concentrate, so by being hydrated you can increase your brain’s ability to focus and concentrate whilst reducing drowsiness.
  • Knowing How Tired You Are
    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 app like V-CAF, an Apple Watch app, 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.

Alertness Tips

Darren thanked me for my openness and went on to try some of my tips as well as what he thought would work for him.

And that’s the beauty of being human, we are all similar but unique enough to make it interesting. Darren started to change things around based on his needs and experiences.

My tips are what worked for me, but perhaps you can use them as a base to start from if you ever feel that caffeine isn’t working for you anymore.

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

Afterword

Don’t suffer in silence, if you’re in a difficult place, reach out and ask for help. There’s no shame involved. Everybody has times when things aren’t as good as they can be.

Whether we like it or not, we are part of a community, it’s just the way it is. Help your community and they will help you.

Categories
Energy Focus Insomnia Productivity Studying Tension

Don’t Loose It, Just Use It?

Step Back & Breathe Slowly

Or Just Loose it…

The frustration was building, and my patience was running short. Up until this point I thought that I was doing well. It seemed to me that I was handling things the right way.

For weeks I’d been putting in the time and the grind and couldn’t bare to think that it might of all been for nothing. What was going on? What did I miss? Maybe I’m not as brilliant as I think!

Now I felt my breathing becoming more shallow and faster. It was difficult to focus on any one thing, but then, in what felt like the back of my mind, I heard a voice that told me to step back and breathe slowly.

Non Stop Progress

The events leading up to this point were pretty normal. Assignments had to be done, social life was buzzing, and I was learning new skills privately that I hoped would further my career .

What could go wrong? I was doing the things “that you’re supposed to do” to be successful in all areas of my life. Yet I had a strange unnerving feeling that all was not as good as it seemed.

I noticed little things at first that I just brushed off as nothing. Little things such as laying awake in bed at 03:00 in the morning, and then not being able to switch off after a long day.

Soon I started to feel a little apprehensive about assignments that I once looked forward to getting into, and I started to lack the motivation to go out and socialise.

 

Real Progress or Busy Stuff

I didn’t talk to anyone about it but just kept on going. Plodding along and hoping that no one would notice. If anyone asked if I was ok, I would just say that I’m busy with assignment stuff or learning stuff.

But this could only go on for so long before someone would notice. And then it happened. My martial arts instructor kept on saying that I looked distracted, and would ask if everything was ok. I responded with the usual busy rebuttal defence, but she saw through it.

Looking back it wasn’t hard to tell for anyone that was paying attention, but somehow I missed it myself. Instead of taking some well earned time out for myself, to recover or catch a breather, I just kept on going.

And like a lot of people, I hid behind something and blamed that instead of standing up and facing myself. I kept the deception going. Productivity slipping, well just do more. Feeling tired, ok where’s the coffee.

I was burning out! But the need to not fail or let anyone down stopped me from looking at what I was doing to myself. My trainer noticed and said, you’re not going to the tournament next week!

I became angry but said nothing. Then when it was time to spar I lost it. I kept going in too hard and my partner kept telling me to take it easy. I didn’t listen. I angrily snapped a front kick forward, which my partner took advantage of, then boom.

I was on the floor looking up at the ceiling. It hurt when I tried to breath, so I took shallow breaths, frustrated that I couldn’t get up. My partner hit me in my solar plexus with a well timed punch that took advantage of my forward momentum. That’s what made it worse. I did this to myself.

As I got up I heard my trainer tell me to step back and breath slowly. Later my trainer had a one on one with me and told me that sometimes we just have to stop and assess where we are. If we find ourselves loosing it, then redirect it towards something positive.

Positive Steps

The lesson I was being taught was to make sure that I don’t loose sight of the big picture and step back from constant pushing and yearning.

My trainer pointed out that nothing progresses constantly in a straight line, and that we should take note of that and incorporate that idea in our lives.

So since then over the years I’ve been finding ways to adapt this notion into my daily life and have found some of the following to be quite useful:

  • Setting Good Routines
    I like to be spontaneous and try to resist being tied down to one way of life, but that said, I also like routines. Why, because it takes the battle outside of my head and places it on a path I can follow without too much thinking. As a result, I have all types of routines for all areas of my life.
    My start the day routine – do at least an hours worth of exercise.
    My work routine – list my tasks for the day, drink water and jump in to it.
    My before bed routine – unwind watching silly videos then reading.
  • Micro Breaks Throughout The Day
    I suffer from tunnel vision when I get into something, so it’s important for me to be reminded to take a 5 to 10 minute break every so often. I used to use the Pomodoro technique and work in 20-25 minute blocks. But after we created V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert, I’ve found that I take the breaks as my focus starts to drop off and the watchOS app alerts me, which is more in tune with my rhythm rather than a static clocks rhythm. And, it really works. I’m less likely to power through when I’m tired now and the difference is amazing.
  • Drinking More Fluids
    For a long time I became a purist, water only type of guy. It was part of my routine. A set amount every day. Now I’m a bit more relaxed and drink a range of liquids not just water. The point is to get enough fluids in you so you are not dehydrated. BTW if you are feeling really dehydrated then drink some milk, apparently it’s more hydrating than water!

In Hindsight

If I could go back in time and tell myself that I needed to chill a bit more then of course I would have. The problem is that I’m stubborn so probably wouldn’t have listened to myself anyway!

So rather than tell you what to do, I thought it best to point out the signs to look for if you find yourself struggling in anyway to meet your progressive aims.

  • Take a step back and assess what you are doing and how you are doing it.
  • Create a plan that incorporates routines that will help you to achieve your goals without sacrificing your well being.
  • Take short regular breaks
  • Keep yourself hydrated

Afterword

As far as we know it’s only one life that we get. We get to choose the attitude that we take through it. It’s not what happens to us, but how we react to what happens to us that counts.

Categories
Caffeine Insomnia Sleep Tiredness

Coffee, Does It Cause Insomnia?

Insomnia & Coffee, Not A Good Mix

Coffee fuels my insomnia!

Insomnia and sleep disorders in general are on the rise. Whilst many news outlets tend to focus on blaming the obesity epidemic, social media and stress, few if any fail to mention that stimulants may have a role in increasing this trend.

Insomnia is a complicated disease, so I won’t be giving a “do x to solve y” type of article!

The aim is to highlight the facts about Insomnia and practical steps you can take to avoid or reduce its effects on your health.

Insomnia Mixed With Coffee
Photo by Jon Tyson @jontyson on Unsplash

Insomnia

If you seek the advice of a qualified health professional they would typically proceed to ask questions about how long you have been suffering, ask about your lifestyle and daily habits as well as questions related to stress and anything that might have an emotional impact on you recently.

This is done to attempt to diagnose the type of insomnia that you may have. Although there are many sources that can cause insomnia, medical professionals classify insomnia in two categories.

Transient insomnias, also known as short term or acute insomnias, last between a few days and a few weeks. A lot of people suffer short term insomnia whilst experiencing stress such as a personal crisis or the death of a loved one.

Chronic insomnias last for longer periods and are often linked to other medical conditions such as:

  • Cardiovascular, pulmonary, gastrointestinal and other disorders
  • Psychiatric conditions, such as depression and anxiety

Sufferers of insomnia usually experience a combination or all of the following symptoms:

  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Trouble staying asleep
  • Waking up in the morning lacking the energy and motivation to get through the day

Coffee Consumption

Of all of the caffeinated drinks, coffee is the most consumed worldwide. A growing body of research suggests that coffee and caffeine consumption can disrupt both human and animal circadian rhythms in negative ways.

Coffee harms sleep by:

  • Increasing the time it takes to fall asleep
  • Reducing total sleep time and quality
  • Lowering the production of melatonin by blocking adenosine receptors, which may worsen sleep quality in later life.

Jeongbin, Park, Ji HanWon, Ju LeeRi, ByunSeonjeong, Seung SuhWan, KimTae, In YoonYoung, and Ki KimWoong. “Lifetime coffee consumption, pineal gland volume, and sleep quality in late life.” SLEEP 41.10 (2018).

Practical Steps

First and foremost, if you suspect that you have insomnia it is important that you consult your medical advisor.

Thankfully, there are measures that you can take to help reduce the effects of (and even help you avoid) insomnia.

  • Go to bed and wake up at specific regular times.
    By doing this your body will soon be accustomed to a regular sleep pattern which will help you fall asleep more efficiently.

  • Regularly exercise, but not too close to bedtime.
    The benefits of exercise are too numerous to list here, but one of the major benefits is that it helps you have better quality sleep and this benefit can be felt almost immediately.

  • No caffeine (coffee, tea or sodas) after midday.
    The effects of caffeine can still affect your body several hours after consuming it. By limiting the times that you consume caffeine to before midday, you increase the chance that its effect on your nervous system and body will have worn off.

  • Don’t drink alcohol during the evening.
    Alcohol, like caffeine and tobacco, can interrupt your circadian rhythm. Unlike caffeine, alcohol increases the production of adenosine which helps you to fall asleep quickly. The problem is that as the alcohol effects wear off, production of adenosine also slows down which can trigger your body to wake up.

  • Avoid doing unpleasant tasks in the evening.
    Unpleasant tasks are stressful, and stress effects the quality of your sleep. Where possible save those tasks for the morning.

  • No daytime naps.
    Sleeping during the day takes away from your sleep at night. If this is happening regularly, then you risk upsetting your sleep pattern (see the first point). The difficulty comes in the form of being tired because you didn’t get a good night’s sleep the night before. Feeling tired throughout the day is no fun, especially if you are avoiding coffee and naps. That’s where V-CAF can help. This Apple Watch app monitors your tiredness and subtly alerts you when you are most likely to fall asleep or are too tired to concentrate.

  • Go to bed with the purpose to sleep, and not to do activities.
    By training yourself to think of your bed as the place to sleep, you are more likely to sleep when you go to bed. Stick with it, it takes time but in the long run will help you sleep better.

Review

Nobody knows you like you. If you are currently experiencing a lot of stress due to work, family or life in general, and you’ve been finding it difficult to sleep or get a good night’s sleep, then know that it’s one of those phases in life that will pass as quickly as it came.

However, if you’ve been suffering for more than a few weeks, you should seek medical advice as soon as possible to make sure that a serious medical ailment is source of your lack of quality sleep.

In any case, I’ve found it impowering in the past to take positive steps to help address an issue, as I feel that I’m doing something to help myself. Try any of these practical steps to help combat insomnia:

  • Go to bed and wake up at specific regular times.
  • Regularly exercise, but not too close to bedtime.
  • No caffeine (coffee, tea or sodas) after midday.
  • Don’t drink alcohol during the evening.
  • Avoid doing unpleasant tasks in the evening.
  • No daytime naps. Use V-CAF to help keep you awake during the day.
  • Go to bed with the purpose to sleep, and not to do activities.

Conclusion

Insomnia and coffee don’t mix. If you are having trouble sleeping, avoid caffeine at all costs.

By choosing to take the steps to help you beat insomnia, you make the battle a little easier.

All you have to do is decide to take action and start immediately.

Good luck.

Categories
Insomnia Staying Awake Tiredness

Insomnia – How Do I Get To Sleep?

Insomnia and Staying Awake

I want to sleep…

Like tiredness, insomnia is on the rise. An increasing number of people are getting less than six hours of sleep per night.

In America, approximately 30% of adults suffer from symptoms related to insomnia and roughly 10% of adults have insomnia that causes them distress during the day.

Whether you are suffering from short term or chronic insomnia, there are some common things that you can do to improve your quality and quantity of sleep.

Insomnia - Why can't I sleep
Photo by Ben Blennerhassett @benblenner on Unsplash

Do I Have Insomnia

Part of taking the appropriate action to combat insomnia is to be able to identify if you suffer from it.

Some of the symptoms of insomnia include:

  • Difficulty getting to sleep
  • Waking up frequently when you do get to sleep
  • It is rare that you get deep quality sleep and wake up still feeling tired
  • Waking up early and not being able to get back to sleep

Degrading Quality of Life

Although people suffering from insomnia can function as “normal” throughout the day even though they feel tired, they may suffer from the following symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Lack of concentration
  • Reduced energy
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue

Some people, whilst trying to stay awake resort to consuming caffeine to stay alert and awake, not realizing that it may be compounding their lack of being able to sleep.

Small Steps

Just as there is rarely any-one cause of insomnia, there is no one cure-all to fix it. However, using a more holistic approach can yield great benefits for the sufferer.

These tips are just some of the strategies that you can use to help you overcome insomnia:

  • Avoid stimulants.
    Caffeine’s key effect is to keep us awake. Depending on our weight, age, gender and fitness it can stay in our bodies from between 3 to 8 hours. Avoid caffeine as much as possible.
  • Set a daily sleep routine. 
    Go to bed and wake up at the same times daily to train yourself that these are times for sleeping.
  • Avoid sleeping during the day.
    Easier said than done when you haven’t had a good nights sleep, especially if you are trying to avoid caffeine. V-CAF is an Apple Watch app that alerts you subtly when you are most likely to fall asleep, helping you avoid needing to drink caffeine.
  • Exercise
    Regular exercise will help you to have deeper sleep. Just don’t exercise close to the times that you set for going to bed (don’t exercise less than four hours before you go to bed).

Review

First changing your mindset and then changing your lifestyle can help you overcome insomnia in many cases.

Use the tips in this article together with any advice from your medical advisor to help structure a plan that will help you succeed.

Once again:

  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine.
  • Set a daily sleeping routine.
  • Don’t nod off during the day; use a tool like V-CAF 
  • Do regular exercise

Conclusion

Hopefully you have a better understanding of how you can start to deal with insomnia.

Stay strong and stay focused.