People take CBD because it helps them sleep and it reduces anxiety. But an important question is, Why is there a problem with sleep & anxiety in the first place? To be sure, the answers are many – the pandemic, screens, stress at work or school, medication – and coffee, i.e. caffeine.
In an eye-opening piece in The Guardian this month, an introduction to his new book, This Is Your Mind on Plants, Michael Pollan tells us how coffee sabotages our sleep – “deep” or “slow wave” sleep – something quite apart from REM sleep. Deep sleep is what the body needs in order to repair itself overnight and leaves you feeling refreshed and ready to go in the morning.
Coffee, Pollan explains, steals deep sleep because it has something called a “quarter life” of 12 hours. Meaning, 25% of the caffeine in a cup of coffee consumed at noon is still circulating in your brain when you go to bed at midnight. Which “could well be enough to completely wreck your deep sleep.”
There’s something else: caffeine withdrawal. It’s even recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the bible of psychiatric diagnoses. Pollan says it works like this: “the day’s first cup of coffee acquires most of its power – its joy! – not so much from its euphoric and stimulating properties than from the fact that it is suppressing the emerging symptoms of withdrawal.”
And that, he says, is what’s “uniquely insidious” about caffeine:
the drug is not only a leading cause of our sleep deprivation; it is also the principal tool we rely on to remedy the problem. Most of the caffeine consumed today is being used to compensate for the lousy sleep that caffeine causes – which means that caffeine is helping to hide from our awareness the very problem that caffeine creates.
Which is too bad because researched marshalled by Pollan and other work just published in Medscape tells us how healthy coffee can be: it helps you think, focus, remember, and wards off diseases such as dementia and Parkinson’s – all of which is undermined by chronic lack of sleep.
Pollan didn’t offer a solution to the paradox of coffee. But when explaining to Joe Rogan what it was like giving it up for 3 months so he could experience caffeine’s pull, he mentioned this:
The only things that were positive about it was I slept like a teenager. It really did improve my sleep. I had some some great sleeps like I remember from when I was a teenager – you know when you can sleep 14 hours.