Friday, October 10, 2008

Friday Rant - Caffeine, Beverages, and Sleep

Why is it that all the really tasty non-alcoholic beverages seem to have caffeine? Coke (Cherry Coke is my fave and they don't make that sans caffeine), chai (you can occasionally find it without caffeine, but it's not usually as good), coffee, and tea (drinking looseleaf tea, it's amazing how few options there are for decaf, unless you want to decaf it yourself).

I drink lots of water, but that's because I'm prone to dehydration, not because I like the taste. And the caffeine lobby has even gotten its hooks into water now, with this product called Water Joe. I remember seeing a booth plugging caffeinated water when I was in college and thinking WTF? My reasoning was, if I'm going to deal with caffeine (given it gives me big withdrawal headaches), then I might's well drink something that tastes good. But I suppose the site is right that for people who are just looking for that caffeine IV, they don't necessarily need all the sugar and calories too.

I don't drink much juice (thankfully, given my tooth enamel situation), or soda (even of the decaf kind). So basically, my options are water, decaf tea and the occasional ginger ale. But I love me the caffeinated drinks, I do I do.

And why is this? Why is there such a dearth of tasty decaf options, especially for hot drinks? Decaffing doesn't change the taste of tea, so there's really no reason for that. Not a big fan of the taste of coffee. Soda does taste different when decaf, does anyone know why that is?

And here's the problem - we're a notoriously sleep-deprived culture. Kids in college consider it almost a badge of honor to pull an all-nighter. If you comment on how much a co-worker is yawning, they'll almost proudly say that they only got three hours of sleep because of such-and-such. And the rise of energy drinks only fuels people to stay awake longer to squeeze those 26 hours out of the day.

Our culture runs on caffeine. Honestly, it's not natural to see, when you get on an airplane at 11am, that half the plane drops right off to sleep. Our bodies evolved to respond to sunlight, to wake when it comes up, and go to sleep when it goes down. And while that's not practical (especially in the winter months when it gets dark at 4:30), it's also not practical health-wise to force our bodies to stay up into the wee hours, sleep for four hours, then set the alarm clock across the room on super-blast until we are able to crack open sleep-deprived lids.

I was once seriously asked what I could possibly be doing at home at 11p on a Saturday night, and received a very puzzled look when I replied that I would be sleeping. Not to say that I'm always so virtuous (trivia Tuesdays and kickball Wednesdays being a big exception), but if I don't have plans, then I'm likely to start meditating around 10-something and I'm in bed by 11.

Check out this wikipedia page on the effects of sleep deprivation on the body. I also saw a 60 minutes episode about sleep, and in one of the studies, they'd deprive a boy of sleep by subtly taking him out of REM over and over. After a few days, his thinking had slowed down and he had reached a near diabetic state. Another test subject showed obvious difficulty in having a normal, thoughful discussion, but thought that she would be able to drive just fine. Because we're all so used to sleep deprivation, we don't really realize the effect that it has on our bodies. We just gulp some caffeine, blast the AC, open the window, and hope we don't fall asleep.

I don't have anything against caffeine. I wish I could drink it more, since so many of the drinks I like seem to have it. But it seems to be the cure-all in our society. Have a headache? Drink a coke. Falling asleep at your desk? Have some coffee. Need to get through a night of clubbing? Have a rum and coke. I'm for moderation in all things, but this country has a caffeine addiction to fill the gap for our breakup with sleep. I'd rather drink the caffeinated beverage because I want it and like the taste of it, rather than just because it's going to wake me up, or because it's going to stave off the inevitable caffeine headache.


WeightingGame said...

I will never forget the first time I saw Water Joe - in college, on my way to the library to study. It was 8pm and I was buying a Diet Mountain Dew to stay "fueled" while studying. The thought of caffeinated water grossed me out so much. Diet MD, on the other hand, seemed totally natural. Neon green and all.

Missicat said...

It's amazing how so many younger folks are drinking coffee products - but that is who Starbucks mainly markets towards and they have made a bundle on it!
Have you tried Splenda flavor accents? They do add good flavor to plain boring water - with no calories!

The Lethological Gourmet said...

WG - that's priceless...but it's the same reaction I had! Neon green seems totally normal, but caffeinated water? Not that either happens in nature, but I guess we're just more used to MD.

Missi - and when younger kids aren't drinking coffee, they're drinking Jolt and RockStar and whatever other energy drink. Seriously, drinking that much caffeine can't be good for you!

I've never really been a fan of flavored water (I always turn down lemon in my water), but thanks for the suggestion :)

Charlotte said...

Trivia Tuesdays?? You must tell us more about that!

And I'm generally anti-caffeine. I'll chug an energy drink before a big race or if I'm trying to set a PR in something but other than that I try and avoid it. Besides, it only works short term.