Last Sunday, in the midst of a sleep-in/no-alarm kind of vacation, my dad dragged my wife and I to early church. That meant falling out of bed by 7 and leaving the house by 8:15. Not my idea of a relaxed schedule, to be sure. On the drive to church and all through the service, I found myself in a fog and close to nodding off (the meh sermon didn’t help). Even at brunch afterwards – stoked with a double-dose of mimosas – I couldn’t seem to shake the cobwebs. It wasn’t until much later in the day I realized something significant went missing from my daily routine. I hadn’t had my morning coffee.
Morning coffee is more a habit than an addiction for me. Or so I thought. It wasn’t so long ago I occasionally substituted juice or water, and the day proceeded as normal. Sunday’s drowsiness made me pause. Maybe the impact of caffeine is more significant as you age. Maybe drinking a hundred cups (or more) in a hundred days creates a dependency. As they say, caffeine is “the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug”.
While I debate the impact of no caffeine today, I can absolutely attest to the impact of lots of caffeine, with two examples of inconvenience. For me, caffeine sends a loud-and-clear, pulsing, Times-Square-sized announcement to my bladder saying, “IT’S TIME TO PEE.” Not in fifteen minutes. Not in fifteen seconds. Now; as in – get up and go NOW. I better have my path to the bathroom mapped out, and that door better be open. It’s like clockwork biology, forty-five minutes after that first coffee sip. Remarkably, the experts still question whether caffeine is a diuretic AND they wonder whether the amount of liquid expelled is equivalent to the amount consumed. I emphatically answer “yes” and “MORE”. With all the expelling, it’s a wonder my body doesn’t dry out and disintegrate. No matter; it’s a small price to pay for my daily drug.
Here’s the second impact of caffeine. Beware the cup of coffee (or any choice from Starbucks) after three in the afternoon. Let that late-day caffeine hit take hold and you’re in for a long night. I can very dependably fall asleep within five minutes of hitting the pillow except when my coffee intake is late-day (and on that note, why is upscale after-dinner restaurant coffee so good?). I toss and turn like laundry in the wash cycle, staring at the ceiling and ruing my beverage mistake. Then I stare at the bedside clock. What a pretty clock it is. Such colorful numbers. It’s fun to watch the numbers change every minute. Every hour.
Let’s review. Assuming I plan my bathroom trips and lay off the coffee by mid-day, I can safely embrace my caffeine habit. And if “habit” concerns me at all – its synonyms include “addiction” after all – here’s some good news. Four cups a day is ideal for heart health, according to recent research by the Germans (my new favorite people). Not up to four cups, but exactly four cups, netting you about 300 mg of caffeine. Four cups is also the equivalent of a Starbucks “Venti” (the Nitro cold brew somehow packs in 469 mg of caffeine) but I steer clear of the big cups. Wouldn’t want to get “addicted”.
We’ve only been talking about coffee here, but thankfully caffeine is found in only a handful of other foods and drinks. What starts as a naturally-occurring compound in plants finds its way to teas, cocoa, cola soft drinks, energy drinks, and over-the-counter meds (i.e. cough syrup). The only one I touch is cocoa (my chocolate habit justifies its own blog post). So, unless I exceed my daily two-square ration of a Lindt 70% Cocoa Excellence Bar, my caffeine intake is all about coffee.
If you count milligrams the way you count calories, know that 300 of caffeine is the threshold to avoid anxiety and panic attacks. A warning sign might as well pop up after 300 saying, “STOP! Proceed with caution”. It’s like there’s this sweet spot with coffee – an oasis between falling asleep in church and earning the jitters – that kindles my fire. Gives me justification to start every day with a cup of coffee. Or four.