Coffee memes, we’ve all seen them, retweeted them and double tapped in solidarity.
But do we ever stop to think about the reality of using a chemical stimulant to mask our tiredness? The fact we’ve normalised caffeine addiction and even wear it like a badge of honour?
A couple of months ago I quit coffee. Quietly and without a social media fanfare or hashtag (#prayforemma) because of the negative impact it was having on my life.
I wasn’t a huge coffee drinker. I limited myself to two, sometimes three cups a day but they were deeply habitual. I have two young children and it’s rare that I won’t get woken up at least once by each of them in the night. Broken sleep is my norm and that first cup of coffee in the morning would blast away the sluggishness that came with never having enough sleep.
I’ve always been aware of the correlation between my coffee consumption and increased anxiety levels and poor sleep so I’d often take little “coffee detoxes” to re-set. Each time I’d have to endure a crippling headache for 2-3 days but be back on the coffee a few days later.
A particularly gruelling stretch of teething from my littlest led to a period of sleep deprivation worse than I’d ever experienced, with it came an even greater reliance on caffeine and anxiety spiralling out of control – I was constantly panicky and started to avoid leaving the house.
After I returned from Panama and I added jet lag into the mix it led to one of the scariest panic attacks I’d ever had. My heart was beating out of my chest, I was breathless and my vision went blurry. I knew that I needed to quit coffee and get a handle on the panic attacks.
I realised that masking tiredness with caffeine is just that, masking. It doesn’t make you less tired it only temporarily enhances your alertness and in fact when it wears off it can make you feel even more tired. Caffeine stimulates the neural system in the brain and tells your pituitary gland to pump out adrenalin and cortisol (the stress hormone) meaning that your nervous system is constantly in red alert mode. I feel exhausted just thinking about it.
The withdrawal headache was the worst ever. As it pounded, I decided enough was enough and that that would be the last time I’d inflict it on myself. I didn’t need something in my life that was having such a negative impact. Why did I keep going back to something that was making me feel so dreadful? That’s addiction right there.
The reality of life with babies and small children is broken sleep, early starts and the constant juggle of work, chores and childcare. The thought of quitting caffeine might sound impossible but using a chemical to cope with tiredness only places further stress on your body, it doesn’t give you rest.
After I quit coffee I noticed that my energy levels were more steady. A bad night would of course make me feel foggy in the morning, but drinking a litre of water first thing and eating a really nutritious breakfast would help me get the day started. Later in the afternoon I didn’t crave sugar and carbs as much. I dealt with the afternoon slumps with some fresh air and loads more water.
When I drank coffee regularly, even if I was shattered to the point of barely being able to speak, I’d never be in bed until 11pm. I really noticed that without caffeine in my system, I would do the previously unthinkable and sacrifice a bit of that precious adult time to go to bed sometimes even as early as 8:30pm. My body and mind has thanked me for it.
I’ve had the odd cup of coffee here and there since quitting but now I don’t have that level of caffeine in my body just one cup makes me feel really jittery so I stick to a cup of builders tea first thing in the morning and an earl grey in the afternoon. In between, I drink herbal teas and water. I do miss the ritual of making my morning coffee and of course the taste and dreamy smell. Occasionally I’ll indulge in a de-caf but it doesn’t hold the same appeal, so I rarely have it. A chai or turmeric latte has become my coffee shop drink of choice.
If you’re a knackered parent (or non parent) that relies on coffee to get you through the day, I highly recommend kicking the caffeine addiction. l think you’ll be surprised at how much more awake and alert you’ll feel in the long run.