Information Technology Dark Side

Struggles of a Self-Taught Coder

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Coding without Caffeine

July 28th, 2014 · No Comments

Best Sleep EVER
I woke up this morning at 6:00 am feeling totally awesome. I slept like a log last night, better than I’ve slept anytime in the last six months. Shannon tells me kids came in and out of the room, talking, even snuggling, and I didn’t even roll over. It was a deep, dreamless sleep and I feel freaking great right now.

I quit caffeine 2 1/2 days ago.

Wait, why!?!?
I know right?

Caffeine is a huge part of the world’s culture, especially coffee, especially in the morning. Quitting caffeine is a very counter-culture thing to do, but that’s not why I did it.

I quit caffeine for four simple reasons:

1) It makes me grumpy. When I drink caffeine regularly I am less patient with others, especially my kids. I am more inclined to snap at them than when I am caffeine free.

2) It erodes my ability to focus. I wish I could cite the talk where I learned about this, but I can’t remember. I think it was at indy.rb. Maybe one of my four readers will remember. At any rate, he was talking about the importance of knowing when our focus is best and working on hard problems then. He also mentioned that we should avoid caffeine until after this period because it makes focusing more difficult. I experimented with this idea prior to quitting caffeine altogether and found I was better able to solve hard problems if I postponed my morning Dr. Pepper until after I had worked on them. Admittedly, this is hard to prove in a scientific way, but since it doesn’t harm me to not drink diet soda I don’t really care. Even if it’s just a Dumbo’s feather, I’m still flying.

3) It messes up my sleep. This is something that is hard to observe while I am drinking caffeine, but is obvious every time I quit (I’ve gone years without caffeine at various times in my life). I sleep much better without it, all other things being equal.

4) It’s addictive. I don’t like being addicted to things. It’s bad enough that I am a food addict, but being a diet soda junkie also makes me feel a little depressed.

There are other reasons too. Drinking a lot of diet soda dulls my taste buds. It’s also generally pretty bad for you and, counter-intuitively, increases feelings of hunger. Caffeine also aggravates acid reflux, which sucks.

Withdrawal Symptoms
What’s it like to quit caffeine cold turkey?

The previous time I quit caffeine I had a horrible migraine for two days. During that time I had to interview a job candidate and in the middle of the interview I asked for a five minute break so I could go throw up. The migraine was that bad.

After two days I had a dull ache in the front of my brain for about three days.

It sucked.

This time I didn’t have a single migraine, but I quit differently. For one thing, I planned it better. I had my last diet soda at noon on Friday and immediately took some ibuprofen. I continued to take ibuprofen regularly on Saturday and Sunday.

I also paired my de-caffeination with a 3-day fast. During this time I drank only water (mostly). I started it on Thursday night and didn’t eat again until yesterday afternoon. I did this mostly because my parents and my little brother did it, based on research my oldest brother did (I have 4 brothers), and I can’t cite any research personally. But they did it and said it made them feel pretty great and changed the way they felt about food in good ways.

I was worried it would aggravate the withdrawal symptoms, but I think it had the opposite effect. I say this because at the time I quit I was drinking twice as much Diet Dr. Pepper as the time quitting rendered me useless for two days.

Coding without Caffeine
So, does it make my code any better? It’s hard to say, this time around, since I only quit 3 days ago. I don’t see how it can make my code any worse.

Heh. That made it sound like my code is as bad as it could possibly be. You’ll have to ask @kofno if that’s the case, I don’t think it is. I just don’t see how not being impaired by a stimulant could have a negative impact on anything once the withdrawal is over.

In the past I have found that I think more clearly and am distracted less easily without caffeine. I’m also less irritable and more inclined to be helpful to others.

About the 3-day Fast
I was 290 pounds when I started it and I ended my fast at 282 pounds. I plan to repeat the fast once a month for three days forever, based on my experience this weekend. According to my family members who have tried it, there are medically validated benefits from a regular fast, including improved immune system and lifespan. As I said before, I have no idea, but I belong to a smart family so I’m just going with it. Here are a few things I observed during and after my fast:

1) I craved fruit. We went grocery shopping during the fast and I was surprised at what made me salivate. It wasn’t candy, chocolate, or ice cream. I really wanted to eat the fruit.

2) Rich foods make me feel sick. I had a slice of cheesecake for my daughter’s birthday and couldn’t finish it. This is unheard of – I could normally eat three or four slices.

3) I needed salt. Next time I will take salt tablets. This time I just added salt to my water. Ick.

4) My stomach seems to have shrunk. I ate a smaller than-normal dinner on Sunday at the end of my fast and didn’t binge. I felt full.

5) Food tastes better. I think this is partly caused by my cessation of diet soda, which messes with my taste buds.

6) It changed the way I felt about food. I found myself imagining really good meals. Not fast food, or restaurant food, but homemade food from the cookbooks I have collected but rarely used. It made me want to cook that food.

7) It changed the way I feel about the poor. Starving isn’t easy. With enough water, it’s not terrible, but it’s hard to go without food for three days. This made me more sympathetic towards those people for whom the source of their next meal is not a certainty.

Your mileage may vary
I’m not saying you should try either of these things. I’m not a doctor and, as I have mentioned, I didn’t even bother to research any of this before embarking on my own experiment. You may find that none of this applies to you.

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