Better Living Through Chemistry: The Decaffeinated Life

Five weeks or so ago, I quit caffeine. Cold turkey. Strictly speaking, that isn’t true: I have consumed a fair amount of decaffeinated coffee since then; there are trace amounts of caffeine in that beverage; I have also eaten many bars of chocolate, dark and otherwise. But never mind. I think my efforts count as ‘quitting caffeine.’ Five weeks on, I do not feel that terrible pre-caffeinated feeling in the morning anymore, one that could only be relieved by strong coffee or tea. My sleep is better; I think I sleep deeper; and I feel more rested.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Why did I quit caffeine? Bizarrely enough, it was because I anticipated sleeplessness, the kind that would be created by the arrival of my first-born child. Dreading a state of existence in which sleepy, catatonic, incoherent, and delirious, I stumbled from one interrupted sleep session to the next, all the while fueling myself with stronger and stronger coffee, I resolved to steer clear of the dark brew altogether. I wouldn’t drink coffee and I wouldn’t drink tea. My wife had successfully mastered the non-or-de-caffeinated state quite well during pregnancy, making a seamless transition to herbal tea in the mornings and the occasional decaffeinated coffee thereafter. Her success at what seemed like a very difficult abstinence was inspiring. Still, there didn’t seem any particular reason to do so myself.

But coffee can be a dark master. I had noticed I was seeking refuge in coffee too many times during the day. Sometimes to ease distraction, sometimes to relieve anxiety, sometimes to get over the mid-afternoon blahs. And always, always, at meetings. It still did its bit in the morning, ushering me from the land of somnambulism to that of the wide-awake, inducing in a dullard a sliver of euphoria so intense that it made waking up worthwhile, but it was increasingly being called on to do perform all sorts of duties through the day.  The net effect of that constant fueling was, strangely enough, a more drowsy mode of existence, but frustratingly, only during the day, and not at night, when I really needed to fall asleep. The constant caffeination wasn’t working. Facing this inescapable fact, and the looming birth of my firstborn, my choice seemed clear.

So I did it, replacing my morning cuppa with a mug of rooibos chai (a South African herbal tea) with milk. On the first two days, I suffered the dreaded caffeine withdrawal headaches. Petrified by their intensity, I sought relief in decaffeinated coffee for the next three days. The trace amounts of caffeine there helped me get through the first week of abstinence. Thereafter, the headaches disappeared. Now, I still drink rooibos in the mornings (and the occasional decaf latte as a treat). I do not crave coffee or tea in the mornings, even as I cannot imagine a morning without some kind of hot beverage. And pleasingly, though my sleep patterns have been disturbed quite extensively by my baby girl, I find it easy enough to fall back to sleep after each nocturnal disturbance.

The body. it’s a wonderful thing; chemistry lets you play with it.

5 comments on “Better Living Through Chemistry: The Decaffeinated Life

  1. This is wonderfully timed for me, as I’m midway through my third day without caffeine (among other things). I ache for it, but I have the sense that the short term ache is for a greater long term gain. It’s good to see such heartening confirmation of the same.

  2. elkement says:

    Thanks – this is really inspiring for a coffee addict like me. I have no New Year’s resolutions yet – probably time to make one?

  3. Marcelo Finger says:

    Hi Samir.

    Funny. I led a coffee free life since my late teens. Until I had my first child. And since then I´m back to coffee. But I had to control it, due to stomack pains. My relief was: totally sugar and milk free coffee. Now I lead a life that is totally milk free (I recommend, for Darwinian reasons), but with at most two coffees a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. And herbal tea, anytime.

    Cheers

    Marcelo

  4. […] couple of weeks ago, I made a note here of my stepping onto the decaffeinated wagon in an attempt to prepare myself for the sleepless nights of fatherhood. That bout of abstinence […]

  5. […] blogosphere had already sent me a signal before – I had also been inspired by this post by Samir Chopra and the numbers had only been the final trigger. However, I am not applying the cold turkey […]

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