Tired means sleep, not more coffee

I quit caffeine.

I’m from the “Coffee Achiever” generation and the truth is, I love the stuff. There’s nothing like the aroma and rich flavor of a good cup of coffee. In fact I’m drinking one right now while I’m writing this — it’s warm, and relaxing!

The other great thing about coffee is caffeine! Caffeine is a time proven productivity enhancer. It (like most stimulants) seems to quicken the brain, enabling higher levels of focus and attention. Good-bye distraction, hello productivity.

But caffeine also acts like noise in my body’s feedback system; it seems to block the signals my body is sending me — or confuses them at the very least. Instead of recognizing the feeling of fatigue as a signal to sleep, I started to recognize it as a signal telling me to drink more caffeine.

The last time this happened was just this past summer. I had a really positive burst of new business, clients coming out of the woodwork, all asking me to do the kind of work that I really enjoy. At the same time, we were going through some terrific changes at home (one daughter graduating from high school, and one graduating from 8th grade). Everything that was happening felt great; there was just too much of it!

sleeping on the jobIn order to get it all done, I started reaching for coffee more and more. First I went from one cup in the morning, to two. Then one in the afternoon; then more. It kept me going, for a while; until the inevitable crash. Once all the parties were over, and the pace at the office had slowed a bit, I got away for a weekend and realized, all of a sudden, how exhausted I was. The truth is that I was teetering on burn-out. Once I got off (or fell off?) the treadmill, I wanted to sleep for a week!

This isn’t the first time I’ve had this experience. The truth is that I’ve been confusing tired with more coffee since college. And sometimes it works. I frantically get done what needs doing and then I can crash and sleep. But this time, once I crashed, I was seeing for the first time how caffeine was working on me. I realized that while I moved in and out of the haze of a caffeine buzz, I kept losing touch with my need for exercise and healthy food. Then I asked myself other questions, like how does it impact my relationships with family, friends, and colleagues? On the surface, my Coffee Achiever lifestyle seemed productive; but when I was honest with myself, I saw that it was actually draining my reserves. I was ignoring signals that my body and my community were giving me in the service of “productivity”. It no longer felt sustainable, or smart — on so many levels.

These realizations have led me to make some changes. I quit caffeine. Cold turkey. I just stopped. Others might be able to stay with that one cup of coffee in the morning, but for me one too easily leads to two, or three…

I didn’t have to wait to feel the impact. The first thing I noticed was the quality and duration of my sleep improved almost immediately. With better sleep I felt less of a need for the stimulants that I used to depend on. It was almost magic — the feeling of actually being rested.

Without the interference of the stimulants, I started to notice my body’s other signals more clearly. I got back to the gym, cut back on sugar and other carbs. Now I’m stretching more, moving more.

So this year, when my business picked up again, history has not repeated itself. There’s still a ton of work to do, but instead of reaching for the coffee so I can “do it all”, I’m reaching for the phone and getting more help. It feels of uncomfortable; I’m simply not used to relying on reflection and the support of my community to get things done, and taking care of my body at the same time! But I gotta say, for all the discomfort, I feel a lot better. We’ll see if I can get it all done with this new plan, but staying connected to the feedback that my body and my community are giving me seems worth the risk.

Oh, and, by the way, that cup of coffee I’ve been enjoying as I type? Not to worry. It’s decaf.

What do you do to “get it all done”? Is that sustainable?



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Photo credit: Jemimuswouldpkr

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