It feels as though YouTube is waging war against caffeine. My homepage is plastered with videos like “I Quit Caffeine for 6 Months (And I’m Never Going Back),” “5 INCREDIBLE Things That Happened When I GAVE UP CAFFEINE” and “This Scared Me Into Quitting Coffee FOR LIFE.”
Much of this IMMENSELY ENTHUSIASTIC anti-caffeine content comes from the same self-improvement YouTubers who publish videos like “90 Days of Semen Retention Has Completely Changed Who I Am,” “The WARNING Signs of ‘Dopamine Toxication’” and “4 Skills That Can Make Nearly Anyone Money Fast.” They’re clearly very eager to convince you (and me) that forgoing coffee is the key to high-energy productivity.
But is that even possible? Can less caffeine make you feel more energetic?
To find out for sure, we need to start by exploring how caffeine works.
Java researcher Christopher Hendon, aka “Dr. Coffee,” tells me that caffeine alone doesn’t produce energy, per se; it simply restrains your body from feeling tired. It does this by blocking your body’s adenosine receptors, which stops them from taking in adenosine, a substance that’s believed to promote sleepiness. With less adenosine adhering to those receptors, you’ll likely feel a positive effect on your reaction times, mood and mental performance.
Caffeine also increases your adrenaline levels, which triggers your body’s fight-or-flight response, and therefore makes you more aware (and sometimes even on edge).
This delaying of tiredness comes at a cost, however. While caffeine blocks adenosine receptors, it doesn’t stop your body from producing adenosine. As a result, when the effects of your four Monster Energy drinks subside, your adenosine receptors will be overrun by a plethora of adenosine, and you’ll experience what’s known as a “caffeine crash.” Rather, you’ll feel even more sleepy than before you consumed caffeine.
In other words, while caffeine can keep your energy levels up for unnaturally long periods of time, it can also make them drop to abnormally low levels. If a caffeinated life feels like a roller coaster of highs and lows, a non-caffeinated life feels like a reliable lazy river. Or as Hendon puts it, caffeine can help you reach “peak performance” for a period of time (which is likely to be followed by hindered performance, unless you go for another cup), whereas refraining keeps your energy levels at a “sustained average.”
However, this assumes you’re being responsible about your caffeine consumption. There are all sorts of tips and tricks out there, but the gist is that too much caffeine (more than three to four cups of coffee, or virtually any amount of pre-workout) can cause jitters and negatively impact your sleep, especially if you consume it before bed. This can have a snowball effect on your energy levels, which will make you progressively less spirited. Thus, if you’re the kind of person who drinks coffee like water, giving it up may actually make you feel more motivated for the most part (once you get through the withdrawal stage).
That said, if you can use caffeine to your advantage, you could feel more energized throughout your days (or at least when it matters) than you would without it. One way of doing this is by only consuming caffeine when your cortisol levels are low, which is somewhere between 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. for the average person — cortisol is a hormone that makes you feel awake, so timing your caffeine intake just right can keep you level. Another way is to cut yourself off well before bed (six hours prior to hitting the sack should be good). Lastly, don’t go overboard. “Moderation is key,” Hendon says.
Not to mention, there are more effective ways to improve your energy levels than simply relinquishing caffeine altogether, such as working out, reducing your obligations, lessening your stress, eating foods without added sugars or refined starches (like whole-grains, high-fiber vegetables and nuts), drinking fewer beers in the middle of the day, and of course, finding ways to achieve more restful sleep.
So, are the self-improvement YouTubers onto something? Will passing up on caffeine turn you into a highly-motivated demigod, or are they spreading anti-coffee propaganda?
Like I said, that depends on how you’re consuming caffeine and whether you’d prefer a life of highs and lows or dependable but moderate energy. It also depends on whether you think going caffeine-free is worth it. “Coffee is tasty, and the idea of quitting both the beverage and the social component makes me feel sad,” says Hendon.
I’m weeping just thinking about it.