Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Caffeine: Alternative Fuel?

When I first started my job, I struggled so hard with the whole routine of going to bed before 2am and getting up when other productive members of society get up and working for 8-9 hours confined to my desk in a windowless room with an officemate who would rather die than be my friend.  This meant that staying awake at my desk was a real challenge.

For as much as I love sleep, I rarely seem to get enough of it. 

When I was in college, coffee was my savior. I was constantly staying up all night to get my work done, rushing from class to work to class to work to group project meeting to fast-food-dinner to home for more homework and studying. I'd make up for it by sleeping all weekend instead of being involved in clubs or doing something meaningful with my time like all those crazy student government overachiever types. I wouldn't have survived if I didn't have easy access to caffeine.

Starbucks was brewed all over campus to grab between classes along with some unhealthy snack or a meager meal. I was never a fan of the taste of energy drinks, but that changed Junior year when I was introduced to Rockstar Juiced to power me through long nights. A team member during the summer I took CS402: Operating Systems (aka summer of all-nighters) introduced me to McDonald's iced coffee one teasingly sunny summer afternoon when we had to meet to make a single-threaded OS into a multi-threaded OS instead of going to the beach or something equally fun. Finally, the last two years of college, I became dependent on the free gourmet coffee machines at my part-time job, which were available to me 24/7. 

The result? I came to my first day of my big girl job expecting Flavia and ended up breaking my "don't waste food" rule by pouring out the complimentary crappy coffee my work establishment offers in the ill-equipped break room. Coffee in bulk? Understandable. Generic office-brand powered creamer?? Gag me! Seriously, though, they sell bulk packages of individual creamers for pretty cheap at Smart & Final. They didn't even have real sugar, just the artificial stuff that just doesn't taste right (at least if you're not addicted to Diet Coke, I suppose). How would I survive?? I acquired the boyfriend's crumby coffee maker so I could be one of those people who jump-starts their day with a good ol' cup o' joe!

At first, it was great. The smell of the Kona brewing made me feel like a responsible adult as I got ready for work, the sunrise pouring in my east-facing bedroom window. This was back before I gradually arrived at work 10-15 later and later over time (I now arrive 1.5 hours later than I did on my first day of work...but my officemate still comes in 1 hour after I do!), and when the days were short in fall/winter so the sun wasn't waking me (and my attention-seeking cat, Toby) up at 5am. I was also still putting some effort into semi-professional dress because my officemate dressed like an Express mannequin every day. At that point, I was determined to embrace working adult life and try my hardest to like the job that wasn't living up to my expectations, one which I now despise so much that I have run out of sick days. Basically, this was before I realized I am not really cut out for society's ideal of productive and successful working adult. But coffee made mornings that much more bearable.

So why did I stop drinking coffee in the morning?

First of all, I have trouble sleeping. As someone who cherishes sleep, this is a problem for me. I didn't think one cup of coffee in the morning would really affect my sleep, but I read somewhere that it is possible.  The boyfriend also got me on a tea drinking craze.  So the crusty coffee maker got put away in favor of counter space in the tiny kitchen shared by four, I bought a pack of tea bags for the loose-leaf boyfriend got me, and I became a "tea drinker".

I think I also made a bigger effort to go to bed earlier (before midnight), so at first I think I believed tea was a valid replacement and that I didn't need coffee. I was still exhausted from lack of sleep, but I blamed this on my two roommate's opposite schedules -- one would shower at 1am, and the other would be up making breakfast at 8am -- and because I am the lightest sleeper ever, every noise interrupts my rest.  Bedroom doors opening and closing, kitchen cupboards slamming, pots and silverware clanking -- it all added up to Sara not getting enough sleep.

I even tried napping when I got home from work, but that was a failure. First of all, my brain still thinks it is normal or at least preferable to stay up late and sleep in till lunch, so my peek energy time is late afternoon and early evening. Secondly, I live with three other people who all have far more motivation to be productive beyond quittin' time. This takes the form of various active sports or work outs, noisy cleaning and vacuuming, and kitchen-hoggingly-involved dinner preparations (to the effect of me giving up on cooking very much until I get my own place again, because it is so hard to predict their cook-offs and to schedule my meal preparation around theirs), and since I share my bedroom wall with the kitchen, sleep cannot be had at any time food might possibly be prepared.

To be honest, I think I gave up on sleep. My body even seems to be used to a meager 7 hours of sleep (to those of you who say 7 hours is perfectly normal, you are talking to someone who has a rule of 9-10 hours is enough sleep, despite frequently running on only a few hours during the week in college). On weekends, despite staying up until 3 or 4am with the boyfriend, I still naturally wake up at my weekday time (then force myself back to sleep until 1pm, but usually frequently waking because my body is confused at the spoiling).

In fact, my morning exhaustion can probably just be attributed to dislike for the purpose of getting out of bed: my job. There was a stretch when I'd wake up naturally earlier than my alarm (like, at the time I originally would arrive at work) but bury my head in pillows and force/pretend snooze until my alarm went off, when I really have to get up and go to work.

Even after giving up coffee -- and really, for weeks now, tea as well -- I have trouble sleeping. When do I sleep the best? When I deprive myself, stay up way too late, and go to bed really tired with not enough sleep time available, that's when. Not getting enough sleep, and thus really needing sleep, is the only way I've been able to reliably fall and stay asleep, so I don't think morning coffee is really the problem.

I came to this realization this morning when I caved and drank the crappy office coffee and it significantly improved my alertness. The cause? My iPhone decided yesterday to commit suicide rather than upgrade and iTunes was no help, thus keeping me up until past 3am last night resuscitating my lifeline. I love my phone, but more than that, it's my alarm clock.

While the office coffee sucked pretty hard core (drinking Kona has spoiled me, I still refuse to use powdered creamer, and Splenda really tastes disgusting), I've decided that giving the morning-coffee-drinker thing another try is a good next move.

Seriously, caffeine gives you super powers.  No wonder it's addictive! I drink it and immediately am brimming with energy and potential productivity. All those mundane tasks that I was too apathetic to bother with before are now puny and begging to be conquered.

drink coffee in the morning.

Also: invest in teeth-whitening gum.

Honestly, if coffee gives people this much energy and potential, why hasn't it been considered yet as an alternative fuel? Perhaps I should dedicate my life to making that happen so I can win a Nobel Prize and retire early. Who's the successful adult, then, bitches?!

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