Microdose #011: Reduce Daily Use of Stimulants
Reduce stimulants to combat sleeplessness and anxiety.
BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front):
While stimulants can have their place, cutting them down or out can be a game changer for those struggling with anxiety. In this microdose we are going to look at what stimulants do in the body, when they are problematic, and how we can reduce them.
In The Plan, you are going to assess your usage of caffeine, sugar and alcohol in day to day life and reduce if needed (adding in luxurious, mood-friendly alternatives).
Coffee is one of the most controversial drinks in the world: you might see some articles touting its antioxidant content, and others saying that quitting it changed the person's life. Stimulants (coffee, tea, chocolate, alcohol, etc.,) can play an important part in our daily routines and in our culture, so cutting them out can be a challenge, and, for some, not a necessity. Is there research to suggest whether these common stimulants are safe productivity aids, or something more nefarious?
- Although it may feel like it at times, you cannot become addicted to caffeine. But, you can become dependent, which is why you get people saying “don’t even talk to me before I’ve had my coffee.” Withdrawal from this dependence can result in headache, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and a depressed mood. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3777290/
- Caffeine half-life (how long the effects last in our systems) vary person to person, so people can be “more sensitive” to its effects and therefore benefit from reducing or abstaining. https://www.news-medical.net/health/Caffeine-Pharmacology.aspx
- Not all of the research on caffeine is bad news, coffee has been shown (in proper doses) to aid in the prevention of certain illnesses including type 2 diabetes mellitus and liver disease. Caffeine itself has also been shown to help with weight loss.
- While further study is required, energy drink consumption in adolescent and young adult males has been linked to increased substance abuse and risk-taking behaviors.
- When we talk about stimulants, we are not just talking about coffee. Sugar, one of the most widely consumed stimulants in the world, has a well-researched effect on our body and mind (promoting anxiety and depression). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5532289/
- While not a stimulant, alcohol has been shown to have an effect on sleep in numerous studies. At first it may help with sleep, but overconsumption can have an adverse effect on sleep, and normal consumption can have negative impacts if there are preexisting sleep issues.
Before delving into the plan for assessing and perhaps modifying stimulant intake, we would like to include a small disclaimer. The information here is based on research and personal experience, not on medical expertise. If you are experiencing anxiety, depression, or other mental or physical health concerns, seek the advice of a professional who will be able to support and help you.
Assess your stimulant intake and tolerance.
Not all stimulant consumption is the same. It can range from a morning latte to a piece of cheesecake eaten in front of an open fridge at 2:00 am. In this step, we would like you to keep note (whether using an application, a note pad, or just a sticky note on your desk) of when you have food or drink that would produce a stimulating or mood-altering effect (coffee, tea, chocolate, sugary foods, alcohol, etc.) during the day, and begin to note how they affect your mood and sleep.
There is a genetic marker (CYP1A2) that determines if you’re a fast or slow metabolizer of caffeine. Fast metabolizers see no negative impact from moderate caffeine consumption, whereas slow metabolizers experience extended symptoms, such as sleep disruption, and a spike of adrenaline, because the caffeine isn’t cleared from their system for hours.
If you’ve taken a DNA test, such as 23andMe, you can access your raw genomic data, and search for this specific enzyme. If your genotype for the CYP1A2 gene is CC or AC, you’re a slow metabolizer. If it’s AA, you’re a fast metabolizer (lucky you).
Even without your DNA data, you can determine if your stimulant consumption is affecting your wellbeing with these questions:
- How do I feel when I am late having my coffee?
- Do I consciously use stimulants as a mood booster?
- Do I use sweets/sugar to improve my “happiness”?
- Do I sleep with relatively no interruptions?
- Do I feel like I need a drink in the evenings to fall asleep?
- How are my levels of anxiety during the day? Do they fluctuate with my consumption of food and beverages?
- Do I use stimulants (sweets, coffee, etc.) as a reward for positive action?
Remove clearly harmful stimulants.
The most obvious step here is to eliminate stimulants that are only causing adverse effects, i.e, sugar and energy drinks. Eliminating all added sugar completely might be an unrealistic goal, but cutting down is something we can all do. Watch out for hidden sugars when you are eating snack foods and try to note when you have “lows” after eating something especially sweet. None of what we are saying right now applies to whole fruits. The benefits of having a fruit rich diet are plentiful, so substituting some of the sweeter things in your diet for dates is a fantastic option.
As the research indicates, it’s not necessary to eliminate caffeine/coffee/tea completely to feel the positive effects of cutting back. Some people find making a pour over in the morning to be a soothing part of their morning ritual. This is just about being aware of your consumption and cutting back until you feel no negative effects, while, if continuing to drink coffee, for example, gaining what antioxidant benefits the science has shown to exist.
Apply enjoyable and healthy substitutions.
Lowering your anxiety might be as simple as switching your brewing technique, if you prefer a warm cup of coffee in the morning. One shot of espresso contains 70 milligrams of caffeine (a grande latte at Starbucks contains two shots of espresso), whereas an eight ounce cup of filter brewed coffee has 95 milligrams. A 16 ounce cup of nitro cold brew has 325 milligrams of caffeine and a regular cold brew, 200. A still caffeinated alternative, matcha green tea powder, comes in at around 65 mg caffeine per teaspoon (this makes an 8-12 ounce drink, depending on preferred strength). As a side note, the caffeine in matcha affects the body differently because of the existence of the amino acid L-theanine, which has a stress reducing effect. Aside from switching to the caffeine-free versions of your favorite drinks, there are alternatives that are tasty and some of them have positive side effects, here are some of our favorites:
- Chicory (caffeine free)
- Dandyblend (caffeine free)
- Teeccino Herbal Coffee (caffeine free)
- Hot cacao (lower caffeine)
- Pero (caffeine free)
Low or no alcohol alternatives:
- Vermouth spritz (lower alcohol by volume)
- Seedlip (alcohol free)
- Soda water/seltzer and bitters (Alex drinks this every night)
- Freshly pressed fruit juice diluted with seltzer
- Olipop (Grape is Frank’s favorite flavor #notanad)
Alex - Just like everyone else, the pandemic stressed me out. I was relying too heavily on stimulants in the morning, and alcohol at night to wind down at night. After assessing my usage, I ended up cutting coffee completely and switching to matcha tea in the mornings, and an herbal tonic in the evenings. I love preparing a seltzer and bitters drink in the evenings with my dinner to feel like I am having something special, without the negative impacts to my sleep schedule, or mood.
Frank - I was fairly certain that “caffeine had no effect on me” until I experimented with switching my daily oat milk latte to decaf for a week. I experienced headaches and significant fatigue. Unfortunately, I’m a slow metabolizer, so I’ve used this data to begin reducing my caffeine intake…. though I do still have the occasional full-caf latte. No one’s perfect.