Saturday, January 3, 2015


It's 7:30 pm of the third day that I've given up coffee and alcohol. My head is pounding and I'm feeling a little grouchy and also tired.

I had the headache last night too and I woke up with it this morning, but by 10 am it was gone and I thought I was out of the woods. I went for a mile run and felt pretty great. But by afternoon the headache returned and here I am. I think I'll go to bed early and hope that tomorrow my caffeine withdrawal is over.

Note: I'm definitely blaming the headache on the caffeine withdrawal. Giving up alcohol separately has never given me any negative side effects.

This isn't the first time I've given up coffee. In the last five years I've probably gone to the trouble seven or eight times. After a few days I'll be feeling great, not missing it. Then after a few weeks or months I'll have a cup at a restaurant, then I'll start with one cup a morning at home, and eventually I'll be back to three cups a morning and I won't particularly notice the effects. Until one day I do. I start to feel agitated, light headed, my heart rythym gets wonky, and I realize that I've had too much coffee to drink, and it takes hours for the effect to wear off. The next morning I'll try to drink less, but it's hard.  In fact after I'm at the three cup a morning point, it's basically impossible for me to back down to two cups even though I really don't like the way three cups makes me feel.

And then there's my relationship to alcohol by which I mean white wine, or lately, tequila. It's so similar to my relationship with coffee. I can give it up totally, and I'll feel great. In 2013 I gave it up for 100 days and thought I might never go back to it. But slowly, one occassional drink at a time turned into two or three drinks a night. The pattern is so similar to the one with coffee that I decided to do a little research and it appears both alcohol and coffee affect how the body's natural adenosine works.

What is adenosine? "Adenosine is a central nervous system neuromodulator that has specific receptors. When adenosine binds to its receptors, neural activity slows down, and you feel sleepy. Adenosine thus facilitates sleep and dilates the blood vessels, probably to ensure good oxygenation during sleep."(Adenosine is also a pharmaceutical drug, so if you look it up, beware which one you're reading about.)

Caffeine blocks the effect of adenosine, which is why it wakes you up. Alcohol has a completely different effect on adenosine receptors. At certain doses, its effect is similar to adenosine in that it also slows you down and makes you sleepy. Adenosine also affects heart rhythm.

No wonder giving up alcohol and caffeine at the same time takes some adjusting to. It just makes sense to me that by constantly getting in the way of what my body wants to do naturally, I screw it up. But I know it can recover. In past years on this cleanse I've found that my sleep becomes deep and profound after a few days. Even last night, the second night of this 21 day cleanse, though I did lie awake some of the time, I fell asleep at 10:00pm and got up at 9:00am -- a big improvement on night one when I couldn't fall asleep for several hours. Usually after a few nights of staying off both "drugs", I start waking up naturally before 7am feeling rested and falling asleep around 11pm. Why would I ever want to mess with that? Maybe this will be the year that I don't.

Below are a few good sites with information about adenosine and how it relates to caffeine and alcohol. One of the readings is about how mixing caffeine and alcohol at the same time (as in mixing an energy drink with your martini or beer -- OMG! who does that?) can get you into serious trouble. I would never drink them together, but it was still interesting to read about how it affects the signaling to the central nervous system. This link is to a study that found severity of alcoholism was tied to various measures of tobacco and caffeinated beverage usage and surmised alcohol and caffeine should be considered jointly in the treatment of alcoholics.

I'm hoping that some of the controversy about energy drinks will help bring the negative attributes of caffeine to the public's attention before coffee becomes the first non-nutrient to be added to the federal government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This while the Center for Disease Control calls insufficient sleep a public health epidemic.

Support Cells, Not Neurons, Lull the Brain to Sleep
An Essential Role for Adenosine Signaling in Alcohol Abuse
How Drugs (Caffeine) Affect Neurotransmitters
Alcohol and Caffeine, The Perfect Storm
The Role of Adenosine in the Regulation of Sleep
Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep
Should I Be Concerned About Drinking Coffee?
Sleep and Caffeine
Patterns of alcohol, cigarette, and caffeine and other drug use in two drug abusing populations.

and then there's this:
Caffeine for Sale: The Hidden World of the World's Favorite Stimulant

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