November 15th, 2012


The caffeine experiment

So, I've been playing around with SuperBetter since hearing it's creator, Jane McGonigal, speak at a conference I attended this month. SuperBetter is part of the trend of "gamifying" health/fitness/self-improvement, and is based on the method that McGonigal used to get over the effects of a severe concussion. (McGonigal's TED Talk on this is well worth having a look at.)

Anyway, SuperBetter is structured like many video games: You collect Power Ups (things that boost your mental, physical, emotional, or social resilience), battle Bad Guys (obstacles that you find challenging) and complete Quests (tasks or exercises that the game gives you to help you improve.) When you play the game, you can choose different "Power Packs" that are collections of Power Ups, Bad Guys, and Quests related to a particular goal.

One of the Power Packs I chose was one that's supposed to help you sleep better. I generally sleep pretty well, but travel, time changes, and assorted minor stresses had kind of thrown me a bit off track lately.

So, I'm playing along, and up pops a quest: Eliminate or substantially reduce your caffeine intake for one week. Which resulted in the following internal dialogue:

Me: Oh no. I'm not doin' that.
Me: Oh, really? Why not?
Me: What if it works? Then I'd have to give up coffee forever.
Me: Which is more important than sleeping?
Me: ...maybe.
Me: Okay, you realize that now we have to do this.
Me: Yeah, okay.

I usually drink about 3-4 cups of coffee a day. The funny thing is that my dependence on it is much more psychological/social than physiological: on the odd day where I don't have any, or postpone my first cup until late in the day, I don't particularly notice ill effects. I usually have my first cup of coffee first thing after I get to work in the morning - it's a little ritual to get ready for my day. I often have my second after my lunch break. I'll have a cup of coffee with Daniel after dinner as we talk about our day. If I'm at a social occasion where sweets are being served and I don't feel like partaking, I have a cup of coffee so I have something to keep my taste buds occupied.

There's really very little there to suggest that all or even any of those cups of coffee need to be caffeinated, but I've been curiously reluctant to switch to decaf.

So, for the past few days I've been trying an experiment: no more than two cups of caffeinated coffee a day, and nothing caffeinated after 5 p.m.

It's a small sample size so far, but on the plus side: I do seem to be falling asleep faster and waking up less frequently during the night. On the other hand, I don't feel any more refreshed or energetic, nor have I experienced that inexplicable, "Damn, last night's period of unconsciousness was a *better* period of unconsciousness than I've had in a while!" feeling you get from a really good night's sleep. (Part of the problem here is that I'm trying to optimize a variable that is already pretty darn good. I sleep better than most people I know.) More data needed.