Coffee, or Caffeine in general… ah… we’ve had a tumultuous relationship. I remember my first real taste of coffee — blended with hot cocoa on a cold Boy Scout camp-out during a Michigan winter. Then there were the several times I mistakenly thought Mountain Dew would make a good breakfast in high school. (That’s a negative, by the way. It invariably resulted in a stomach ache.)
In college, especially freshman and sophomore years, I tested the limits of both sleep deprivation and coffee consumption. It was possible to get a 20 oz cup of coffee at the cafeteria for something like $1.25, and one refill was free on the same day with the original receipt. There were days when I had 40 or 60 oz of cheap, cafeteria coffee with chicory. Something magic happened when I had consumed that much caffeine — I wrote code for my computer science classes that worked flawlessly, yet it took me hours to comprehend what I had written the next day. The mechanism underlying this increased ability seemed to be a greater “stack depth”, meaning that I could keep more things in short-term memory simultaneously. This allowed me to reliably track a greater number of programming constructs at once, requiring less checking-back of variable names and so forth.
I quit that level of consumption, cold turkey. I wasn’t doing it all of the time, and fortunately my withdrawal symptoms were limited to minor headaches and tiredness. After quitting I felt much better. The body can only take that kind of abuse for so long. I eventually went back. I love coffee, and decaf just isn’t the same. However, I’ve never reached that level of consumption again. Subsequent periods of abstinence have not yielded the same improvement in quality of life as that first time quitting, probably because I haven’t reached a level of use/abuse that negatively impacted how I felt.
Generally, I limit myself to two to three servings a day. That level has been found to be harmless, and maybe even beneficial. However, I have just over a week left in Baltimore before I go to New Orleans for Amanda’s graduation from medical school (w00t!), and I have an awful lot to do. I’m giving myself free license to however much coffee and caffeine I want, and my productivity has been skyrocketing.
I recognize that this level of consumption is not sustainable, and that if I keep it up, I’ll surely pay for it. But wow, does it ever feel awesome for now. If I experience any dramatic shifts in mental or physical state as a result of my use, I’ll tone it down a bit. But for now, I’m just enjoying it and getting a lot done.
This post brought to you by five cups of coffee.