I pride myself on being conscious about my time (or at least I like to think I am). I set up a daily routine in the morning when I read my devotionals, do my personal projects, and write something in this blog. I have written posts about time management like “Consistency Beats Intensity” and “How to gain extra time“. I listen to podcasts and audiobooks daily, and give my best to my work every day. I might even like to call myself Mr. Productivity.
I don’t like it when something happens in the day that ruins my routine. Some days there is something that needs to be done, or something unexpected that needs to be fixed and cleaned and it disrupts my schedule. I am also uncomfortable when I feel like I am not doing anything useful, like just lying down to rest or sitting somewhere to talk.
My days are fueled with caffeine-induced energy. I have been drinking coffee for years now, which started since I had a full-time job after graduating from college. I cannot imagine a day without drinking coffee and I make sure I get my fix any means possible.
This feeling of energy pushed me to work harder on personal projects and my job. Sleep became more scarce as I find it harder for me to fall asleep immediately when I go to bed. And since just lying there trying to get to sleep is not productive, I get back up and do something else. This resulted in having less than optimal sleep which becomes unnoticed due to the caffeine highs.
I also try to be physically active by going to the boxing gym two days a week. This gives me more energy throughout the day and I get to have a nice cardio workout as well. For a long time I did not feel the effects of poor sleep quality coupled with stress (both physically and emotionally).
And then it suddenly hit me.
Nature’s Wake-Up Slap
It was midnight. I had just returned to our bedroom after a quick trip to the restroom and was preparing to go to sleep. Once I laid down however, I felt my heart racing and pounding uncontrollably. I started having these episodes in the past few days but they only lasted a few seconds. This time it was different.
The irregular heartbeats did not stop after a few seconds and continued on for minutes. I started to panic and at the same time I felt lightheaded (perhaps due to the panic). I woke up my wife and said I want to go to an ER. We prepared to go the hospital, all the while my heart still was beating quickly and irregularly. When we finally got in the car (ride-sharing service) en route to the hospital, my heartbeat returned to normal.
The doctors in the emergency room obviously did not find anything wrong after blood pressure tests and an ECG. They recommended me to see a cardiologist right away. The following days I had my blood tested, did additional ECGs, an Echocardiogram, and finally a 24-hour Holter monitoring.
The doctors advised me to stop taking caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea, and carbonated drinks. As I see myself as “caffeine dependent” this was a major event for me. The first two days of no-caffeine days were hard: I felt weak, tired, and had a throbbing headache. These symptoms forced me to lie down to bed earlier than what I used to as I can’t do anything much in the evening.
After two days I started feeling normal again. To be honest, I did not expect my dependence in coffee to go away that easily. After two weeks of coffee-free days, I no longer feel a loss in energy during the day, I still feel awake, but I tend to get sleepy already before midnight.
All of these things that forced me to go to bed earlier had a much better impact than what I expected. Having a full night’s sleep gave me energy throughout the day without resorting to coffee. I started to feel better and the minutes-long irregular heartbeats no longer presented itself.
Am I really a night owl?
This experience exposed one major flaw in my personality: that I am not a night owl. Night owls are people who are (or think they are) more productive at night and so they tend to sleep late and also wake up late. Completely eliminating caffeine in my life proved to me that I am not really a night owl.
We need to be honest with ourselves. Are we really night owls or is it just the effect of our daily dose of coffee? If its the latter, then we may be heading towards disaster as our bodies slowly cannot cope with the lack of quality sleep. Granted that quitting coffee is not a pleasant experience especially in the short term, gradually reducing our dependence in caffeine may be better for us in the long term.
Thinking about death is good
Thinking about death became such a taboo in modern society. However this was not the case centuries ago, and this is even one of the main ideas behind Stoicism. The possibility that I could die at any moment exposes the things in my life that does not really matter and those that do.
Health scares usually cause people to suddenly think about how they are living their lives, and I am no exception. This event caused me to think about my body’s needs more and made me more aware of how I abused it in the past.
It also made me think more about my daily priorities. Have I been working too much and thinking about work the whole day? Do I need to have more entertainment time to cope with stress? Am I losing quality sleep because I need to play and enjoy just so I can deal with stress? These questions point to possible solutions that I can start to implement in my life to make sure my body does not wake-up slap me again.
At this point I think I will no longer resume my coffee drinking days. Perhaps once I completely establish that my caffeine intake will no longer influence how I sleep and how my body gets rest, then I may one day enjoy a nice cup of coffee again. But for today, I resolve to be more aware of my body’s needs and stop ignoring its pleas for rest in the name of productivity.
Photo by Muhammad Raufan Yusup on Unsplash