Health & Fitness

Caffeine. The Invisible Addiction by Michael Pollan. Borrowing energy, wrecking sleep

Kristen Sparrow • July 13, 2021

Good sleep for long life

This is a fascinating article by Michael Pollan about the hidden side effects of caffeine.

He goes through the history of coffee and caffeine, it’s a relatively new aspect of life.  He talks about the different studies showing that caffeine improves cognitive performance, focus and concentration.  But when it comes to creativity, the benefits may not be there since creativity requires a different kind of thinking.

It has also been shown that coffee helps to prevent Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other brain malfunctions.

So what’s the problem?  The problem is that caffeine can mess with your sleep: particularly your Deep Sleep. The amount of deep sleep that you get declines as we age.  And the shorter your sleep you get the shorter your life, according to sleep scientists.

“For most of us, to be caffeinated to one degree or another has simply become baseline human consciousness. Something like 90% of humans ingest caffeine regularly, making it the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world, and the only one we routinely give to children (commonly in the form of fizzy drinks). Few of us even think of it as a drug, much less our daily use of it as an addiction. It’s so pervasive that it’s easy to overlook the fact that to be caffeinated is not baseline consciousness but, in fact, an altered state. It just happens to be a state that virtually all of us share, rendering it invisible…

Its mode of action, or “pharmacodynamics”, mesh so perfectly with the rhythms of the human body that the morning cup of coffee arrives just in time to head off the looming mental distress set in motion by yesterday’s cup of coffee. Daily, caffeine proposes itself as the optimal solution to the problem caffeine creates.

An English neuroscientist on the faculty at University of California, Berkeley, Walker, author of Why We Sleep, is single-minded in his mission: to alert the world to an invisible public-health crisis, which is that we are not getting nearly enough sleep, the sleep we are getting is of poor quality, and a principal culprit in this crime against body and mind is caffeine. Caffeine itself might not be bad for you, but the sleep it’s stealing from you may have a price. According to Walker, research suggests that insufficient sleep may be a key factor in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, arteriosclerosis, stroke, heart failure, depression, anxiety, suicide and obesity. “The shorter you sleep,” he bluntly concludes, “the shorter your lifespan.”

Walker grew up in England drinking copious amounts of black tea, morning, noon and night. He no longer consumes caffeine, save for the small amounts in his occasional cup of decaf. In fact, none of the sleep researchers or experts on circadian rhythms I interviewed for this story use caffeine.