Are you a java junkie? Find out what’s even more essential than coffee is.
I first started drinking coffee in college, and I have to say it was just—meh! I drank dining hall coffee by the quart, trying to combat late nights of studying (or more likely partying!), but college coffee was terrible. I heaped spoons of sugar and poured lots of milk into my mug to compensate for the awful taste and managed to gulp enough down to feel awake and ready for class.
After college, I traveled to Europe and tasted incredible coffee for the first time in my life. I remember ordering a cappuccino in a train station in Venice. My mom and I sat at the formica countertop. It was early in the morning, and we’d just arrived after a long overnight train journey.
I watched the Italian behind the counter as he fiddled with a fancy machine, unlike anything I’d ever seen. Moments later he presented Mom and me with two steaming, frothy cups of cappuccino. As we sipped the warming, fortifying liquid, I began my love affair with good coffee.
It wasn’t easy to find in the U.S., so I would bring quality coffee back from my travels—Gevalia from Sweden, Douwe Egbert from the Netherlands. I could never figure out why consumers in the U.S. put up with crappy coffee for so many years. Now happily Americans have awakened to the possibilities of delicious, well-roasted, quality coffee, and I don’t have to go to Europe to find it.
But there’s a catch. I’m not sure if you have trouble sleeping at night, but I do. I have been blaming my sleeplessness on everything I can think of except caffeine. Then my sister-in-law shared a book with me called Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, PhD. A New York Times bestseller, this nonfiction book delves into what happens in our brains when we sleep, and it’s fascinating.
The bottom line is we don’t function well with fewer than eight hours of sleep a night. We need it, and our brains need it. And that rumor about people needing less sleep as they age? It’s rubbish, says Dr. Walker. Eight hours is what we need to function, and not getting enough sleep results in illness, overeating, depression, and stress, among other health issues.
Much to my disappointment, Dr. Walker blames a lot of today’s sleeping woes on caffeine, which has a half life of six hours. That means from the time you take your last sip of coffee, you still have 50 percent of the caffeine you consumed in your body six hours later. As someone who was an all-day coffee addict, this was a definite wake-up call. (For the record, Dr. Walker also says alcohol interferes with healthy sleep and sleeping pills are even worse.)
All is not lost. I have been cutting back on caffeine and learning to function on half decaf-half regular coffee. If you buy quality decaf, it tastes great. And guess what? I am sleeping better. I’m still reading the book, so I don’t have any other sleep tips to share, but I recommend Why We Sleep highly, especially if you are interested in achieving optimum health. By the way, a small percentage of the population is not affected by caffeine. They can drink it even in the evening and still have a great night’s sleep—lucky ducks!
So you might wonder why I’m bringing up all these weird factoids about coffee when our cover story celebrates local coffee shops and their contributions to our community. I guess like all good things coffee should be consumed in moderation. Now if I can just remember that when I pop open a bottle of wine this evening.
Cheers, everyone, and happy new year!