Science: Coffee is not our friend

I love coffee. Coffee’s combination of complex flavors and the satisfaction of a craving that it delivers is just… indescribably wonderful. I also enjoy that it seems to affect my physiology more strongly than most people. I’ve joked for years that I’ll never need speed because I’ve got caffeine. Yes, that’s foreshadowing.

My doctors told me to completely cut out coffee in December. The thought was every bit as emotionally difficult as cutting out wheat and dairy earlier in the year. After psyching myself up for a few weeks, I quit my 3 to 6 cups per day cold in January. After six weeks, I experimented with bringing it back as a daily habit, but in much smaller doses. The experience has shifted the way I think about caffeine dramatically. Now, I’m preparing myself to cut it out permanently in April. I’ll reserve enjoying a cup of coffee as a very occasional luxury.

It turns out my experience can be illustrated with science.
That's right, bitches. It's science time.

According to a Johns Hopkins study quoted in this piece from Forbes:

In essence, coming off caffeine reduces your cognitive performance and has a negative impact on your mood. The only way to get back to normal is to drink caffeine, and when you do drink it, you feel like it’s taking you to new heights. In reality, the caffeine is just taking your performance back to normal for a short period.

Yep. When I’m on a coffee high, everything seems great. But those “optimal caffeine flow achieved!” moments I used to gleefully tweet are fleeting. After the (quite miserable) withdrawal, I couldn’t deny that I was performing at least as well off of coffee as I was on it, and got more done overall.

It gets worse: Based on other studies, caffeine hampers your emotional intelligence in a vicious cycle.

When caffeine disrupts your sleep, you wake up the next day with an emotional handicap. You’re naturally going to be inclined to grab a cup of coffee or an energy drink to try to make yourself feel better. The caffeine produces surges of adrenaline, which further your emotional handicap.

I hate this, but it’s consistent with how coffee affects me. Eliminating the caffeine ramp-ups and ramp-downs has been a big step in my quest for the even keel of emotional serenity.

Coffee is damn tasty, and I love a caffeine rush, but I no longer see it as a buff. Now I see it as a delicious ritual, but a temptation to overindulge to the point of self-destruction. It doesn’t ever make me a better (higher performing) person — rather, it reduces me. I really can’t afford that if I’m to reach my potential.

You might like to read Caffeine: The Silent Killer of Emotional Intelligence in its entirety on Naturally, YMMV. If you’re a night person, you may not be a pitiful junky like me, because caffeine affects night owls less than morning people.

3 thoughts on “Science: Coffee is not our friend”

  1. Moderation in everything – including moderation. I have my large cup of coffee in the morning – which enables me to pass as something approaching functional with morning people (when I’d much rather just follow my natural rhythms and start waking up at 8 am). One cup, that’s it. No particular rush – just waking up enough to function. So, as a card-carrying night person, I’m not a coffee junkie. I’ve heard the withdrawal headaches are fierce.

  2. I concluded that coffee was doing me more harm than good circa 1985, and have been gladly decaffeinated since. I still enjoy the flavor and aroma of great coffee, only decaf instead of that witch’s brew I used to choose. Occasionally, a waitperson will stop by the cafe table to refill what I’d presumed to be the decaf I’d ordered, only to learn that s/he’d accidentally served me high test. Then, I don’t sleep for about three days. For me, caffeine must not be a performance enhancer. I probably work better without the jitters. Withdrawal was difficult, though. Six months of migraine-like, blinding white light, Incredible Hulk headaches. Best wishes, Matt, and good luck. It’s well worth doing, probably long-past due.

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