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A year without caffeine (bryanalexander.org)
76 points by sramsay on Jan 4, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 82 comments

Interesting start, but not much to talk about when this is just a setup for a "To be continued" blog post.

"To be continued" is, IMO, a pretty terrible thing to do on blog posts... Why not just hold off on publishing until it is, you know, continued?

I think it would be fine if the HN post also said Part 1. I don't have a huge problem with "to be continued", but in a post just called "A year without caffeine" you expect something about a year without caffeine.

I was hoping to get it all done in one post, but the thing just kept growing. The mad extent of my habit wasn't something I recalled all at once. Part 2 is cooking up now. Maybe when it's done I'll paste 'em together.

And how do I keep up with your blog? Should I subscribe to RSS, reload the page a few times in the next days or look if it made to HN?

You see, the problem isn't about getting the information quickly. It's not stock information. It's about getting it complete. If I'm reading, I'm allocating time for a precise matter; and when I don't get the result, my time was probably lost.

RSS, if you're interested in what I normally think about: education, technology, the future. Otherwise, you can use the contact form to send me your address. I'll ping you when part 2 goes live.

As a blog post, I think it's just fine. After all, a blog is supposed to be somewhat personal, and such a drastic lifestyle change will surely affect the author's posts over the next year.

Perhaps it's not necessarily enough for Hacker News, but it does seem to have sparked some interesting discussion on the subject, which I think makes it worthwhile.

I recently cut way back on caffeine.

I realized I was waking up tired and drinking coffee through the day, but then I wouldn't go to bed till late because I had drank too much coffee. And that would ensure I wouldn't get enough sleep and would wake up tired the next morning to start chugging coffee all over again.

I wasn't sure the caffeine was even helping any more because I had such a tolerance for it. And I just don't think I should need an energy boost every day.

So I switched over to black tea, and I've been gradually switching over to caffeine free herb teas.

I've found two benefits. First, I don't get caffeine headaches when I can't get coffee. And when I really do need some extra energy, I can drink a coffee and actually get an energy boost.

I started off writing the whole story as a single post, georgemcbay, but it ended up being far longer than I expected. Part 2 is coming up soon.

I had to go a few years without caffeine as well.

I had always drank a great deal of coffee. I joke that my grandfather would put it in my spill-proof cups as a toddler. At this point, I don't know if that's true or not, but even when I was 6 or so, I'd order coffee at breakfast. My household was definitely one that went through multiple pots on a daily basis.

When I started playing guitar in 5th grade, I really looked up to my teacher and we bonded over drinking espresso drinks from a small bookstore/coffee shop down the street which is sadly no longer there. I got my first espresso machine for Christmas in 6th or 7th grade. Fast forward to me working in startups, and I was at betahouse in Cambridge making dozens of shots a day with our Silva espresso machine trying to learn to get them perfect- drinking all the failures to force myself to learn.

I was probably drinking at least 12 caffeinated drinks per day. I had terrible headaches without caffeine. Having it didn't help anything much, but it was a life-long habit.

Then, when I was working at gamerDNA in Cambridge, I had just left a meeting at Andala (where I had an espresso naturally) headed back to the office to provide moral support for a code-deploy night (I wasn't coding at this point much myself).

And while crossing Mass Ave my heart suddenly started beating fast- really fast. I went to the office and kept sitting down to check my pulse. It seemed wrong. 180bpm? I must be counting in triple. I had a few others in the office try the same. It was weird. I didn't feel right. I went homeward, stopping at the neighbor's place next door. After an hour of this I had them take me to the hospital. My heart had been beating at 180-200bpm for over an hour it seemed. My counts weren't wrong.

It appeared that I had triggered some heart arrhythmia. It stopped on its own a few hours later, but the long term diagnosis was to avoid all caffeine and stimulants. The doctors were utterly shocked when they found out how many drinks I had that day (around 14 so far).

The next week was terrible, between beta-blockers they put me on and no caffeine.

I missed caffeine. But having even a small amount would send me into panic attacks and arrhythmias (neither was fun). Finally, about a year or so ago I had a heart abalation which fixed my issue there completely. No medicine needed. And no ban on caffeine.

Now I'm back to drinking coffee- albiet not as much as before (now 2-3 drinks/day is totally enough). I've also been able to get on adderall which is a magic wonder-drug for me. If I had this in college and high school, I would have been 10x more productive and a straight A student.

I quit coffee 6 weeks ago. The first two working days were hilarious, as I actually had trouble maintaining the focus to procrastinate.

The headaches lasted for a bit more than a week. I tried all household remedies and only peppermint tea seemed to help although it might also be the excess fluids. I tried to avoid taking painkillers (Ibuprofen worked like a charm) but in retrospect I would probably accept a week or so of Ibuprofen/Aspirin usage.

All in all it took about two week for my body to feel balanced again. After that a few really interesting things happened though, namely:

* I could no longer get away with no breakfast or morning routine, whereas before I would just drink a coffee and be ready to walk out the door.

* It seemed that I used caffeine as an external motivator which kept me 'just doing stuff' and actually had to relearn how to choose goals and focus on them.

* I had to accept that my mental acuity was just a bit lower; even though it's now constant throughout the day.

* It now feels like my mental acuity is now linked to how physically healthy I am (as I've heard said many times), whereas that didn't seem to be the case all that much before.

All in all I realized that caffeine is very much like a self-inflicted Ballmer Peak [1] and if you really try to keep your blood-caffeine percentage optimal like me and the OP did, you'll destroy yourself in the long term.

[1] http://xkcd.com/323/

As a tip, I was doing some international travel and knew I had to reduce my caffeine intake or else be forced into caffeine withdrawal.

I was drinking 10-12 cups of tea per day. If I stopped, the headaches would be incredible.

So three months before the trip, I just reduced my caffeine intake by 1 cup per week. The day I left for the trip, I could easily manage on 1 cup per day and the days I never had a cup of tea were fine.

Quitting anything cold turkey is tough, it's easy to reduce the dose at a rate that it's practically unnoticeable. Easier to stay abstinent if you don't have withdrawal symptoms pushing you back to your old habits.

This is the only way I was able to quit smoking. At its height it was about a pack a day (18-20). Every few days I'd reduce that daily number by one. Eventually it got to the point where a pack would last long enough that the last few cigarettes were stale and I'd have to throw the pack out. It doesn't take too long at that pace to just quit altogether.

Glad to hear it worked for you as well.

I think the reason why this works is: (1) you still get to partake in your favorite habit (2) the habit changes so slowly you don't really perceive it changing (3) you aren't reducing the dosage so quickly that you lose any effect [i.e. when I went from 10 cups to 9 cups, I still got a boost from the caffeine] (4) by the time you get down to a reasonable dose [i.e. 1 or 2 cups] it feels like something you could carry on forever (5) you can further reduce doses by inserting holidays in between [i.e. one cup/cig every other day].

The nice part about this is that you can go as slow as you want. If you're smoking 1 pack a day (25 cigs), you can drop 1 cig each week [hardly noticeable] and it will take you almost a full year, but you'll get there eventually.

Humans are pretty good at attempting to keep an even level of some substances (especially fast acting ones, like nicotine) in their blood stream.

Very true.

I only noticed all this after I quit smoking and subconsciously replaced a few smoke breaks with coffee breaks, causing me to massively overshoot my caffeine levels on a daily basis.

Whether it's good to keep an even level of caffeine in your bloodstream is another question of course.

I enjoyed your story up until adderall. While I'm sure the added pep it provides now is great I think its potential for addiction and health problems make it a bigger burden than caffeine ever was. Synthetic productivity is not sustainable. Take care and watch out for your self. Speed is not to be taken lightly.

Low doses of adderall haven't been shown to have long term negative effects. There are side-effects to all medication, but him being treated is probably far healthier than the depression that can come with untreated ADD.

I see your concern and I share it, I make sure to temper my use of it to lessen dependence and addiction. I got my first prescription of a relatively low dose of Adderall 5mg IR 2x/day.

Realistically, I only use it once per day ever, and then not all days- just when I really feel that i've got a good laundry list of things to get done. I never take it on weekends or on holiday (don't even take it with me). My ADD is pretty severe, but it was just formally recognized as ADD recently for me. If I don't have anything specific to do, then I don't take it and I suffer no ill effects (didn't take any to California & Burning Man for example)

Yeah, I think every amphetamine user arrives at those notorious crossroads where you either try to out-dose the accumulating tolerance or realize you need to sprinkle in breaks if you want it to work a week from now.

I don't know why doctors prescribe it as a drug that can be taken every day. Not every day is equal, and every day is certainly not Side-project Saturday (best day of the week). :)

I recommend Vyvanse, the d-amphetamine prodrug with a therapeutic slope. Makes Adderall XR feel like a tweak with a trailing depression.

The link between arrhythmia and caffeine isn't that strong. I suspect 14 a day is over cooking it a bit, but 1 or 2 and the literature is divided. I'm in the same boat as you were. I have beta blockers, I have 1 or 2 coffees everyday, 3 somedays. It is probably important somehow, but my issues started about 10 years before I started drinking coffee. I have read that some arrhythmias are more sensitive to certain stimulants than others. I really really don't want an ablation as the risk of a pacemaker being required is too high for my liking - if I get one I'm out of a job.

I had a very similar experience, although not as acute; used to drink a lot of coffee in high school (not as much as you), had chest pains, cut the coffee and switched to tea. Now I have a cup of coffee a day, and a cup or two of tea a day, both before noon. As the saying goes, everything in moderation. Apart from the heart arhythmias, though, you might have been doing your health a favor: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3439152/

It sounds like you have adult ADD and self-medicate.

What exactly are you basing that on? Not snarky, I'm truly interested since I fit the OP's description fairly well; luckily including having quit in December 2012.

I'm basing it solely on the amounts of caffeine he was taking. If he feels he needs that much caffeine to be productive it is a very large hint.

If you are concerned I suggest the book "Delivered from distraction." http://www.amazon.com/Delivered-Distraction-Getting-Attentio...

I thought you might be basing it on the fact that he couldn't even finish his blog post.

Actually, I've never had a sign of ADD. I don't lose things, have decent impulse control, can pay attention for long periods of time, don't job-hop. Heck, I homestead and adore the films of Andrei Tarkovsky. :)

I don't lose things, have good impulse control, can pay attention for long periods of time when something is interesting, and I don't job-hop ... but I sure as hell have ADD and take Aderall for it.

It has solved so many problems for me. I can focus on menial tasks that I used to dislike with a passion, I can work for hours on end without getting distracted in the open plan office, I no longer have issues with not finishing projects (although one problem I do have is working on too many at once ...) and because of the aderall I no longer feel the obsessive need to speed while driving (which is actually a sign of ADD).

Just because you don't have the ones that most people consider to be associated with ADD doesn't mean you don't have ADD. I used to use caffeine as well to be able to work and focus, when I stopped that my work suffered but I was sick and tired of the side effects from caffeine. Aderall gave me my sanity back, and work ethic. I am having a much easier time getting stuff done and not procrastinating.

OK, I can check with family doc. But I'm not seeing any of the ADD or ADHD symptoms.

I was thinking the same thing.

Patient to the eye doctor: "Whenever I drink coffee, I have this sharp, excruciating pain." "Try to remember to remove the spoon from the cup before drinking."

I kind of want to flippantly ask "Can someone shoot me an email when part 2 comes out?" but I suspect that would be viewed as snark and not accomplish my real goal. So I will ask if anyone has any suggestions for how I can follow up with this? (or on this? Not sure what the right phrasing is.)


It has an RSS feed. An RSS feed reader would do the trick. Or it looks like http://blogtrottr.com/ fed the URL of the blog post and your email might do the trick. (I've never used an RSS-to-email gateway.)

(Encosia beat me to the punch while I was researching the RSS-to-email gateway situation, but I'll leave this here as an approach that works more generally when blogs don't have direct support like that.)

Click the "+Follow" button that floats at the bottom-right of the page. You can subscribe to his posts by email there.

I am honestly not finding this button you speak of. :-/

(Brain damaged and blind -- but I knew that already.)

It's right here for me: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/360937/Screenshot_010413_052125_PM....

He also has RSS and Twitter, which would be good ways to be notified when he posts again.

Thank you very, very much. I am on an Android and my screen does not have that. So it isn't my eyesight.

I have bookmarked the site and this discussion and I think I can manage to follow up. My life is less brain damaged than it used to be. (crosses fingers)

Take care and have a great day.

I put up part 2 today, Mz.

Check his blog again in a week, or tomorrow. His last post was five days ago, so this post probably took at most five days to write. However, he obviously is interested in telling the story, and likely knows what he wants to say in part 2, so I'd be surprised if it took more than a day or two for him to write that part out. I'm very interested in part two as well.

Crap. I thought of that already. I was hoping for something my brain damaged memory didn't have to work for.

But thank you and have an upvote.

I'm shooting for a weekend followup, Mz. If you like, use the contact form to send me an email address, and I'll ping you when it's done.

I'm actually doing the opposite. Up until a year ago I didn't drink coffee or any other caffeinated beverages. In fact, I really didn't understand why people liked coffee as the taste never appealed to me. Nonetheless I started off trying mochas from Starbucks in the afternoon at work and noticed a huge boost in productivity. I felt energized and started to cruise through projects. Before I started drinking coffee I would get so tired that I would have to take naps during the day (and this is on 8-9 hours of sleep). Now it's a reason to get up in the morning.

I've switched over to normal coffee and I'm still a pretty moderate drinker (5-6 cups a week). I don't drink soda either, so it's my only source of caffeine generally. I think it's fine in moderation and there are definitely some health benefits as well.

After a short while of regular caffeine consumption, tolerance kicks in. My understanding is that the cognitive and focus boosts largely disappear in the sense that your new baseline is lower and your morning coffee simply raises you up to your original baseline.

This knowledge is what's kept me from becoming a regular coffee drinker; The awareness that I'll get a few weeks (?) of added productivity but will then simply start at a lower baseline makes me want to preserve my caffeine sensitivity for those days when I _really_ need a pick-me-up.

Have you been to a doctor and checked to see if you have ADD? I have ADD and I used to use caffeine and it had the same sort of effects as the aderall that I got prescribed. I stopped taking caffeine because of all the side effects I noticed.

I haven't, but I wouldn't be surprised if I did.

The second I opened the web page, I said "nice new design Mr.Stallman!" then I suddenly noticed it's not him.

I get comparisons to rabbis more often. And to the Taliban. Makes TSA interested in me.

No man, you are like stallman for sure.

I stopped drinking coffee about 3 months ago, until then I had undergone different phases with sometimes 2-3 cups/day (recent years) to 20-25 cups/day (last few months at university). I stopped because I simply couldn't stand the "routine" element anymore, I felt there was probably no real purpose, just a habit behind my coffee drinking.

I did expect to sleep more, be more tired during the day or even become less choleric and more approachable, but none of these actually happened. Needless to say, I do not miss coffee at all. ;-)

Used to drink 2 redbulls and a ton of coffee everyday. Soy Lattes were my fav. Towards the end of my caffine run I was getting a shot of espresso put into my coffee.

Anyway, about 5 months ago I got a huge pain in my abdomen, fast forward a few weeks I had a mild stroke says my doctor. I can't eat anything acidic now or else my body goes into weird fits. Seeing doctors etc. It sucks :P

I miss coffee so much, but being off it so long I realized it's not as good of a pick me up as I used to think. Naps are superior to coffee.

I've cut caffeine out when I stopped drinking soft drinks. Its great. After being used to the caffeine kick of soft drinks, you develop a tolerance for it and it becomes necessary to perform tasks [without feeling like crap]. Now the most caffeine I get is from very few and far between softdrinks, or through unsweetened tea [which is a small amount, and interacts with your body differently]. It feels a hell of a lot better to be off the stuff. [Also, I never liked coffee]

Cmon man, why the hell would you split something like this up???

I've been without caffeine for almost two years now. I too was a complete addict, I would drink a two liter bottle of Mountain Dew upon waking up.

Since I have been without caffeine I have actually found it easier to stay awake, stay up longer working on problems and I don't have the same downs where I am craving caffeine or the shakes. I'm calmer, more collected and my colleagues have to deal with less "abuse" from me.

So far being with caffeine has been a huge win for me personally.

If the Mountain Dew was not diet, I'd expect the sugar to make a huge impact on whether you could stay awake.

The Mountain Dew was mostly diet, with some of the throwback stuff thrown in at random.

I'm impressed people can drink that much coffee in a day; period. If I had that much coffee, I'd be a nervous wreck! Probably would have a flat out panic attack.

Too much caffeine started giving me anxiety. So I cut back to only 1 large cup of in the morning, and that's it.

Seems like a good balance. I never have coffee after 10am, and if I do, I can't sleep. On Sundays, I take a break and don't have any coffee at all. I sleep much better when I give my body a break.

I'm so glad I never got into coffee. I stopped drinking soda as well in high school. I'd hate to be dependent on a caffeine just to get through my daily life.

I stopped taking caffeine about four years ago, and it was a very good decision. After a few days of withdrawal symptoms, I became more focused, more alert, would sleep better, would wake better, would be more awake even when getting 'too little' sleep, and be way more productive.

I guess I should write a blog post.

No, write half of one.

The second half of one, right?

I expect the followup description of the 'cold-turkey' period to be harrowing. Quitting from even a much smaller daily intake can prompt a several-day withdrawal period of strong headaches (and other symptoms).

In my experience, it's best to taper off for a week (or several) before eliminating caffeine entirely.

Strange he thinks Mountain Dew was highly caffeinated. Most "normal" soft drinks have half or less caffeine than a cup of coffee.


It ranks among the highest among soda.

It seems to have more caffeine than most other sodas, at least.

Or drink Canadian Mountain Dew which has no caffeine.

You have to factor in the serving sizes.

Cup of coffee = 8oz

Can of Soft Drink = 12oz

Bottle = 16oz

I don't get what you're saying. The link does figure in serving sizes. Sure, a bottle is slightly more, but that's negligible.

It would take nearly 36 oz (a liter) of mountain dew to equal a single cup of regular coffee. If you're drinking that much Dew, you have bigger problems than caffeine. Let's start with: your diet is now about 25% sugar by calories.

Not to mention all the other crap that's in soda; at least coffee (and tea) have health benefits.

> “Either I hospitalize you tomorrow, or you go cold turkey on caffeine. Immediately.”

You do realize how wrong was what your doc did, right? You never just cut-off and addict from his substance like this! Yeah, for caffeine you can do it without risk killing the poor addict, and probably with most other weak stimulants too, with depression and occasionally getting dizzy because of low blood pressure, but... I imagine your work productivity dropped to a record low and this will last for at least a week! And gradually reducing the dose would have prevented this and other inconveniences...

His doctor got the patient to quit. One week of lost productivity is a low price to pay for successfully turning someone's life around.

Why on earth should quitting be the desired outcome here?! If he's more productive on coffee than off it, he should just reduce the quantity to something that doesn't kill him... Just take care of the medical problem that gave him the "gut pain", check your cardiovascular health, and considering these two, adjust the caffeine intake to highest maintainable dose... Wish you happy sipping!

EDIT: Ok, I read about the ulcers now. Yep, listen to the doc then, at least until they heal, and then keep antiacid pills handy :)

Quitting caffeine cold turkey can lead to agonizing migraines.

I can't find the article now, but heavy coffee drinkers often have lower BP immediately after drinking coffee. And cutting coffee doesn't necessarily lower ones BP.

As with many other supplements, the devil's in the dosage.

What? That post says nothing about going without caffiene, that's a pretty bad headline.

Anyway, sounds like he was self-medicating.

Anyone know what the pains in the gut were about?

Three ulcers, for one. That's in part 2.

That's what I suspected when I read your symptoms. Thank you for sharing your story, by the way -- I don't consume a lot of caffeinne, but I'd always wondered whether it would have bad effects. Your description of your doctor's facial expressions were very entertaining, as well. :)

Thank you!

I was going to guess kidney stones from all of the sodium in the soda.

The most amusing thing about coffee for me are the articles which pop now and then in the media alternating between "Scientists discover that coffee is bad, because X" and "Scientist discover that coffee is good, because Y". Althought lately I only saw a positive news. For me coffee is just a hot drink, it does not affect energy levels at all. Neither do energy drinks, for some reason. This can be unfortunate, because I have no means to fight sleepnes if there is a need for that :(

Caffeine made him the Übermensch. I should try it sometime.

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