Decaffeinated Insomnia

I used to think sleep was overrated. Think about it: Eight hours of the day is spent unconscious. That’s fifty-six hours a week, more than the typical full-time employee works in a week. It’s also four months a year, longer than it takes a space probe to travel to Venus. It is one-third of one’s life. I can think of much better ways to spend a third of my time on this planet than being unconscious. I'm already unconscious for forty hours a week at work.

This past week I decided to kick the caffeine habit. I thought it would be easy-peasy, simply stop drinking caffeinated beverages. However, I have been drinking caffeine for so long it has become an integral part of my body, like an arm, or leg, or glasses. I would have difficulty functioning without an arm or leg. I cannot see without glasses. As it turns out, I also have difficulty functioning and cannot see without caffeine.

Kicking an addiction is difficult, even a minor addiction like caffeine. Part of the difficulty lies in quitting simple habits. I’d order a soda for lunch and refill the cup before I left the sandwich shop. I’d pop the top on a can when I returned home from work and open another at dinner time. I’d have a final glass before bed time. On the weekends I’d have a couple cups of coffee in the morning and drink sodas during the day. The habit became so ingrained I’d find it difficult to perform a small change like a switch from aluminum can to plastic bottle, or from a clear straw to a white one.

Going cold turkey is even harder. And that is what I tried this past week, switching from caffeinated beverages to non-caffeinated. I did give myself one break: I did not drop the soda habit completely, I only replaced caffeinated colas with root beer. I still felt like I was getting the sugar buzz and thought I’d trick my body into believing it was still receiving the stimulant. Even if my body knew the drug disappeared, the worst I thought would happen would be I’d feel a little tired and a bit more cranky. That was OK with me, most people I deal with wouldn’t spot the difference from my normal tired and cranky.

But caffeine withdrawal has a couple side effects I was not aware of. The first is lightheadedness. That’s still OK; again, most people would not spot the difference from the normal me, and I figured my neck could appreciate the illusion of a lighter head. The second is insomnia. Great, I thought, here’s my chance to regain that sleeping third of my life from unconsciousness.

The first night without caffeine I slept six hours in two hour increments, separated by hour long spaces of restlessness laying in bed trying to get back to sleep. The second night was four hours sleep separated by hour and a half long periods of anxiety. The third night I slept for two hours, followed by a frustrated six hours laying in bed watching the time tick closer to the morning alarm. I couldn’t get out of bed to do anything worthwhile, I was too tired and exhausted even to pull the covers off. By the fourth night, the only illusion my body experienced was my mind deceiving a perpetually half-awake me into thinking I slept at all. Instead of gaining a third of my day back by staying awake, I lost eight hours of waking time to the hazy stupor of mental fatigue. Fortunately, this occurred during work hours when no one noticed.

Needless to say, I’m back on the caffeine habit, sleeping a good eight hours a night, and spending my waking hours appreciating how underrated sleep is.