Two black liquids keep America going—oil and coffee. That’s how one university professor recently described our addiction to caffeine. You could argue that coffee runs the entire world. An estimated 400 billion cups of the world’s most popular beverage are consumed every year.
The amount of caffeine many people now consume, particularly in America, has health officials concerned. Gone are the moderate 1950s, when caffeine consumption meant occasionally enjoying a five-ounce coffee after lunch. People today put down three times that amount with just one “medium”-size coffee at Starbucks.
And these days, a double espresso is hardly the only way to get your caffeine fix. Prescription drugs like Ritalin, 5-Hour Energy shots, trendy beverages like Red Bull and Full Throttle, even weight-loss supplements, are all loaded with caffeine. And don’t forget those supersized buckets of soda at the convenience store. If a 64-ounce Mountain Dew won’t do it for you, you can now buy the extra-caffeinated version. Not to be outdone, other companies are introducing all sorts of caffeinated novelties—beer, soap, lip balm; even a caffeine inhaler.
Consumed in moderation, a hot cup of coffee or tea can provide a temporary energy boost and even lift our spirits. But Americans have gone overboard—and our health is suffering for it.
“While every individual has a different tolerance for the drug,” the Washington Times reports, “experts agree that ingesting more than 500 mg a day can result in anxiety, irritability, headaches, sleeplessness, diarrhea and other health problems” (January 17).
The Times links skyrocketing caffeine consumption with the rise of the Internet. “We’re surrounded by round-the-clock entertainment, stimulated at every turn,” it says. There’s just so much to do—so much opportunity for stimulation. So we end up sacrificing the healthiest, most important, longest-lasting energy boost there is: sleep.
“No single behavior … more fundamentally influences our effectiveness in waking life than sleep,” wrote the authors of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working. In fact, a growing body of research indicates that sufficient sleep is even more important than diet and exercise in living healthy, energetic lives.
“Lack of sleep makes us more inefficient at work and more dangerous behind the wheel of a car. It undermines the quality of our lives and makes us more vulnerable to illness,” wrote Charles Leadbeater in Dream On: Sleep in the 24/7 Society.
Of course, the law of moderation applies here too. There is such a thing as too much sleep (Proverbs 6:9; 20:13). But the Bible also talks about the “sweet sleep” of one who labors hard during the day (Ecclesiastes 5:12).
God designed the human body to need seven or eight hours of sleep per night. Yet, on average, Americans get in about 6.5. We sacrifice sleep in order to squeeze more in, to have more fun, to “get more done.” But it’s actually making us less productive, and our health is suffering. We’re becoming increasingly dependent on caffeine and sugar to get us going. It’s a vicious cycle.
What can you do to break some of these unhealthy habits, to benefit from the recuperative effects of regular sleep and rest and to experience what it really feels like to be awake?
For one, if you’re like most Americans, you almost certainly need to go to bed earlier. Set a specific bedtime and then stick to it, even if it feels too early. It may take a while for your internal clock to adjust, but unless you set a specific time, you’ll end up going to bed when you feel like it—or after one more television show. This will rob you of the precious rest you need in order to be fully alive tomorrow!
Added to this, set a definite time for turning off all media devices—and make it a good while before bedtime. The earlier the better. If you want to watch a program with your family, plan for it, watch it, then turn it off. Leave the computer at the office if you can. Turn off mobile devices after dinner. Enjoy a family activity, squeeze in a quick workout, pour your heart into Bible study. And then when it’s time for bed, go to bed!
Lastly, cut back on caffeine, sugar and alcohol—particularly late in the day. This will help you sleep longer and deeper during the night. And there will be a big payoff in the morning! You’ll feel refreshed and ready to go. And you’ll be less inclined to go looking for that quick-fix jolt.
The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working refers to a successful investment banker who rearranged his daily schedule so he could squeeze in one more hour of sleep each day. He was amazed. “I was more rested, I felt better, I thought more clearly, I got less tired as the day wore on, and I had more energy when I got home. I never would have believed an hour more of sleep could make such a difference” (emphasis added throughout).
There is no substitute for refreshing sleep. “Adequate sleep, we’re convinced, sets the stage for taking more control of every other part of our lives” (ibid). Sufficient sleep is definitely not wasted time. It’s a foundational building block to a more productive, energetic life!
So if you’ve been living out of balance—overdosing on caffeine and sugar and lacking the energy and vitality to really drive yourself in service to God—then take control of your life! Give your mind and body the one, God-ordained energy boost that makes you really live at work, school or play, and results in a longer, more fulfilling life. ▪