A previous boss of mine once proudly stated that he drank 10 cups of coffee every single day.
Completely baffled, yet also intrigued by that statement, I couldn’t help but wonder how he might feel.
Is his sleep restful? Does he feel productive and healthy? Is drinking this amount dangerous?
That’s why I decided recently to voluntarily get addicted to caffeine – I drank 70 cups of coffee in 7 days. Here’s how the caffeine addiction unexpectedly disrupted my health, well-being and productivity.
Table of Contents
- Day 1: How to deal with caffeine intoxication
- Day 2: How it made me nearly depressive
- Day 3: Awake for 23 hours
- Day 4: The caffeine rat race
- Day 5: The 12-hour work shift
- Day 6: Surviving after a hard work day
- Day 7: Surviving on 3.5 hours on sleep
- Day 8+: How to deal with the caffeine withdrawal
Day 1: How to deal with caffeine intoxication
The most cups that I ever drank in my life regularly was about 4 cups of coffee a day, which means I didn’t know how my body would react to the caffeine intake in the first place – this was scary, to be honest.
What gave me some security was ranking under-average on the HEXACO personality-test on emotionality (regarding traits such as fearfulness, anxiety and sensitivity). As caffeine has been shown to increase the effect of those traits. If you rate high on the personality test on emotionality, you might feel the effects of the caffeine intake quite strongly.
As I decided to start this experiment late in the day on a whim after immense amount of procrastination, I immediately needed to face two challenges:
- Not destroying my sleep quality
- Dealing with caffeine intoxication
The effects of caffeine intoxication were clear after drinking 6 cups of coffee and dealing with stomach problems, I wondered if this challenge can actually be fatal. It happily turned out that the lethal dose of caffeine is considered to be around 10 grams.
This means that I needed to drink about 130 coffees to potentially end myself. I felt safe.
What I didn’t know is that the effects of caffeine intoxication can start at blood-levels of about 250mg. Even if I considered the half-life of caffeine, which turns out to be approximately 6 hours, I already passed that benchmark.
While I dealt with gastrointestinal problems from the get-go, at that point I also dealt with rambling flow of thoughts and speech, restlessness, severe sweating bursts and later on insomnia.
At that time, I worked for my eCornell certification in Plant Based Nutrition and various other projects. I was busy but I wasn’t being productive. I had to postpone nearly all of the endeavours.
How to deal with the acute, negative effects
As caffeine has been shown to increase your cortisol levels, it’s important to implement stress relieving tactics in your day. I ended the first day with a long-walk, while listening to soothening piano music.
I also played a calming instrument at the end of the day, wore blue-light blocking glasses and shut down my mobile phone atleast 2 hours before going to sleep. Regarding diet I ate 3 kiwis and drank a chamomile tea, which are linked to melatonin production and decreased cortisol levels.
These are all stress-relieving tactics that have worked for me in the past. We all should have at least 3 tactics on your hand that we can implement to relieve stress in our daily life. The more often we use them, the more effective they become, as our brain starts to associate these tactics with stress relief.
Day 2: How it made me nearly depressive
I like to go to sleep and wake up early. Yet the 10 cups of coffee completely disrupted my natural sleep cycle.
After planning to wake up at 5am, I ultimately woke up at 8am after 7 hours of sleep.
I woke up with slight nausea, probably from the caffeine intoxication of yesterday. At that point, I also realized that the second day would be the hardest day of the challenge. Considering the half-life of 6 hours, I still got about 200mg of caffeine in my blood at that time.
While one cup of coffee used to pump me up quite good in the past, I now couldn’t feel a difference at all in energy levels. I have noted energy increases at 3 cups of coffee. Which funnily enough put me back into the caffeine intoxication blood-levels.
While I planned to exercise quite early in the morning, I only found the willpower at 3pm on day 2. But going for this jogging session might be the best decision that I ever did on this challenge. Here’s why:
How I cracked the code to the challenge
I’m still not sure if it was the increased blood flow to the brain or the unbearing circumstances of the challenge that made me come up with the solution to the caffeine problem.
I decided to deal with the three most productivity-reducing challenges on the experiment:
- Random, excessive sweating
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Impaired thinking and increased anxiety
I dealt with the random, excessive sweating while adding ice to my coffee and drinking a cold smoothie at the same time. While cold beverages are regulating your body temperature, they also decrease the blood flow to your digestive system. They therefore might also slow or hinder the absorption of the caffeine.
The gastrointestinal issues have been treated with increased fiber intake. I aimed to eat atleast 50grams of fiber every single day. This is 150% of the RDA.
The impaired thinking and increased anxiety were obliterated by daily exercise or random naps. I actually felt like I took control of the experiment.
Yet I was proved wrong in the following days. Here came day 3.
Day 3: Awake for 23 hours
The most amazing part of this caffeine challenge was the tolerance build up.
The third day I woke up at 4:30 in the morning while having my last 3 coffees less than 9 hours ago.
Falling asleep was easy. This was the first day I woke up energized and motivated during the challenge. I gulped down 3 cups of coffees and went for a workout.
The gastrointestinal issues should have been sorted out because this was my first day that my stool was on the Bristol scale between type 2-4 again. This might sound weird but the consistency of our feaces is an indicator of our overall health.
I ended the day at 3am after going out. This was the moment that I realized that I was awake for 23 hours.
I wondered if this caffeine challenge was indeed ending me, without me even noticing it.
How fast does your body build up a caffeine tolerance?
A first time coffee drinker or one that has abstained from caffeine for a long time has no tolerance to caffeine. This is when caffeine works the best and produces the following positive side effects:
In the caffeine challenge, I didn’t see those positive effects after a couple of days. In fact, according to this study, caffeine tolerance can start to build up within 1 days.
Caffeine works because it blocks our adenosine receptors. This increases our state of arousal and our capacity for performance.
But here’s the thing:
Your brain knows that something is not quite right after caffeine consumption and is producing more adenosine receptors. Apparently the feelings of fatigue are crucial for our survival, which means the caffeine tolerance starts building up.
If you drink the same amount of coffee for several days, you don’t see positive effects anymore. Unless you increase the dose of the substance.
Welcome to the caffeine rat race!
Day 4: The caffeine rat race
I soon realized that the morning on caffeine addiction are absolutely horrible. On day 4 I could barely open my eyes. It felt like someone sewed them together mid-night.
This is a phenomena called sleep inertia. Sleep inertia is the grogginess one feels after 15-60 minutes after waking. I noticed that the caffeine addiction increases this feeling.
Do not drive a vehicle or make important decisions within that time frame, especially if you’re on high doses of caffeine.
You can decrease the effects of sleep inertia by taking a short nap (under 30 minutes), exercising or, ironically, drinking a caffeinated beverage.
I assumed that sleep inertia might be incur on this challenge because the caffeine-level is lowest in the morning. Excess caffeine intake increases your levels of adenosine receptors in your brain. The more adenosine receptors you have, the more fatigued you will be, especially if you have no caffeine in your blood.
Caffeine addiction and the law of diminishing return
In economics, the law of diminishing return refers to a point at which the level of benefits gained is less than the amount of money or energy invested.
I like to drink coffee. I’ve experimented with caffeine before and I realized that 2 coffees a day are giving myself the best results long-term. The first day I already noticed that the next 8 coffees are not giving me much benefits.
To the contrary:
While 2 coffees used to produce euphoria and increased motivation, they now produced no effects at all. Combined with 8 other coffees in a day, they instead resulted to increased and anxiety and slight nausea.
Day 5: The 12-hour work shift
After drinking 8 cups of coffee plus having a jogging session before 2pm, I felt ready to tackle my first work-day after my holidays.
What I lacked in energy in the morning, I compensated with energy in the evening. I finished work at 1am, with decent overtime. This made me realize that there’s a different energy curve in coffee addiction:
The energy curve in coffee addiction
There was an upside to the caffeine challenge. While energy levels during the day are usually correlated with time of the day (and therefore light-levels), body temperature and nutrient intake. These factors are based on our circadian rhythm and therefore mostly out of our control.
On this challenge instead, I felt like I could exercise some level of control on my energy levels by altering my caffeine intake. If I ingested 200mg of caffeine (3 cups of coffee) or more I noticed a slight increase in energy.
While my energy pre-challenge was more even during the day, I noticed more ups and downs during the challenge. Overall I must conclude that I had more energy and a way higher baseline of my energy on my usual, lower caffeine intake.
Day 6: Surviving after a hard work day
After waking up at 10am, my stomach was turning. It’s another day of late shift and I’m struggling to deal with the basic challenges of human life again on this experiment. Getting out of bed seemed impossible.
What followed were 8 hours of stressful work. After finishing work at 11pm, I got anxious about the early shift at the 7th day.
The anxiety producing effects of caffeine
Anxiety is an unpleasant, high-arousal state, classified by high sympathetic (fight-or-flight) activity. Caffeine has been shown to increase the level of your sympathetic nervous system.
Regular consumption of high caffeine doses can lead to a a condition known as caffeinism. On this experiment, I suddenly realized how I stressed out about unimportant things and could barely make a decision.
In a leadership position, staying cool-headed and being decisive is important. The caffeine intake aggravated both of these traits in myself.
Day 7: Surviving on 3.5 hours on sleep
This day was a real stress test. I had to wake up at 4:30am for my early shift which started at 6am. Normally, I can deal with acute sleep loss quite easily but I could barely open my eyes on that day. My head was flushed.
After ingesting more than 4 coffees in less than 1 hour, I stumbled to open the fitness center and start training clients. After 7 hours of drudgery on a sleep-deprived basis, I called it quit.
After gulping down the last cups of brown liquid in a coffee shop, my foggy brain forced me to do an impulse purchase of expensive clothes. I earned it.
How your caffeine addiction is torching your money
On the last day, I treated myself with a double espresso at the said coffee shop. I paid $5 for that beverage.
While this might not be a huge expenditure, it can definitely add up in the long-term. Five double espressos a day would cost me $25. If we multiply this by 365 (days in a year), we end up with $9,125.
This is enough money to pay for a 20-days, exclusive 5-star hotel vacation on the breath-taking archipelago of Fiji every single year (with flight prices included)!
If we add all the impulsive purchases during that time and multiply it by 50 (weeks in a year), partly due to caffeine and/or sleep deprivation, we can add easily another 2-3 weeks to this chic holiday.
Day 8+: How to deal with the caffeine withdrawal
After I drank the last cups of coffee, I went to sleep for at least 12 hours. The following two days of the caffeine challenge were marked by withdrawal symptoms such as:
- Lack of concentration
- Decreased exercise performance
- Brain fog
The most debilitating factor was sleepiness. The next 2 days I slept double the amount that I usually did, 12+ hours. My alarm clock used ‘wake Florian up’ – it was not effective.
While I went through the motions in my work, I felt like I didn’t produce anything productive at all.
The caffeine addiction unexpectedly disrupted my health, well-being and productivity.
I can now state with good conscience that drinking 10 cups of coffee a day was not beneficial for myself. And we’ve discovered a lot of scientific evidence, proving that:
Caffeine has a diminishing rate of return on our productivity and well-being. It can also increase our anxiety and reduce our thinking capabilities. This can decrease our effectiveness in dealing with the daily challenges that we face as busy professionals, where we need a clear head and decisiveness.
While caffeine might produce short-term productivity gains (due to the altered energy curve) and therefore might help us reach deadlines, it’s not recommended to use it in high doses in the long-term.
To watch the raw, vlog-like video of the challenge from this article. Check out the following video! Warning: It’s not for the faint-hearted.
Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com