I just started a new job, and I'm really excited for the potential of drinking coffee, but I'm worried about dependency or other negative effects.

I don't want to be upset or feel unwell if I don't have coffee, and I don't want any long-term negative health effects from drinking coffee.

Is there any research on caffeine schedules or does anyone have any personal experience with using caffeine?

New Answer
Ask Related Question
New Comment

13 Answers sorted by

It's going to affect different people differently, so take any specific advice as anecdotal, rather than necessarily applicable to you.  It's also going to affect you differently as you age, even separately from any habituation or dependency effects.

Fortunately, it's legal and mostly harmless over any short run, so experimenting is pretty safe.  It is easier to ramp up than to ramp down, so starting small in order to find your minimum effective dose (the smallest amount that you can see any difference) is probably wise, then varying times of day and slight dosage increase (and/or multiple doses per day) to see if it's better or worse.

Note that this is NOT what I did - I just drank a lot of coffee in my youth, to make up for poor sleep hygiene and social/party habits that left me pretty tired for most work mornings.  Only later in life did I cut back, but by then I enjoyed the taste and ritual of coffee enough that I didn't really optimize anything.  

I wouldn't recommend regular caffeine at all unless you know from experience that you won't develop a physical dependency. In my experience you get more like short term gain until your body adapts then requires coffee to function normally.

If you do want to try caffeine I recommend trying to pair it with L-theanine (either in pills or green tea) which is supposed to smooth the experience and makes for a cleaner high (YMMV).

If you're looking for a stimulant that you don't take regularly and with shorter half life, consider nicotine gums. Again ymmv, I think gwern has tried it with little effect. Beware the addictive potential (although lower than with cigarettes or vapes)

i’m not sure i’d recommend nicotine even in gum form. you’ll notice an obvious boost the first few times you do it — and the shorter half-life is nice for working in the evenings — but like most other drugs you build dependence quick. after a couple weeks you literally won’t notice any effect from taking that same initial dose. overcoming that by bumping the dose is, obviously, unsustainable.

if you do go the nicotine route, try both the gum and the lozenges. gum is more effective at quickly weening you off of cigs because it replaces one ritual (smoking) w... (read more)

1Tom Lieberum11d
Yep all good points. I think I didn't emphasize enough that you should not take it every day (maybe not even every other day). The gums are less addictive than cigs because they taste bad and because the feedback/reinforcement is slower. Lozenges sound like a good alternative too, to be extra sure.

I just quit caffeine a month ago after years of daily dependence on it, and I feel better than I did on it. I now limit myself to 100mg a week. The dependence had a consistent moderate negative affect on my life, so I’d recommend people be very careful to avoid dependence.

This is my personal experience. I maintained this schedule all throughout grad school. Eventually, though, I just got a prescription for Adderall and that worked much better.

Caffeine has a steep tolerance curve, and you will rapidly experience diminishing returns if you exclusively use caffeine. This means you are using caffeine to address your caffeine dependency and get you to baseline, rather than to push yourself above baseline. For this reason, you must cycle caffeine with other stimulants (or tolerance breaks) for it to remain effective. You also must have accurate dosage tracking in order to understand the long-term effects. You should also, in my opinion, match caffeine with a 1:2 ratio of caffeine to l-theanine (this is the inverse of the green tea ratio, which has 2:1 caffeine:l-theanine). All of this means coffee is an inadequate source of caffeine. Do not get your caffeine from coffee. Take caffeine pills, starting with a low dose like 25mg caffeine/50mg l-theanine. Track your dosage and dose times in a spreadsheet and also try to rate how effective it was; this self-report is not objective but is better than nothing in the long run. The smallest Starbucks coffee is about 125mg caffeine; on hard days when I was struggling to meet a deadline I might take 200mg (with 400mg l-theanine) twice in a day. While high doses of caffeine paired with 2x l-theanine is the closest you can legally get to adderall, I don't really recommend it outside of making desperate efforts.

The best secondary stimulant I ever found was nicotine. As a non-smoker and non-secondhand smoker with a negligible nicotine tolerance, I needed about 1-2mg sublingually to match the effect of 100mg caffeine. Nicotine has a shorter effect than caffeine and you'll need to redose multiple times in a day for the same effect. It also has a steep curve, and I usually found myself taking up to 5mg by the end of my nicotine weeks. I tried many forms of nicotine, but the most reliably effective with the least side effects was sublingual liquid nicotine at a 1mg/ml concentration. Patches were the worst, gum never really worked, lozenges worked but are kind of high risk high reward.

My schedule was to spend one week on caffeine, one week on nicotine, and one week on adrafinil. Adrafinil never really worked right and eventually I would use this week as a break week. I think it would also have worked fine if I did just caffeine/nicotine, but I never tried that extensively. 

I abused caffeine pretty heavily getting thesis done. Gave up coffee a few years later but it was hard - first thing in the morning, my mouth was ready for coffee and screamed "what is this?!!" when it got tea. My wife got headaches if she didnt get her daily hit so she also went cold turkey which helped. 

When I really need it (up very early for "red-eye special flight" to the capital or a long drive) then I have coffee. We are talking 4-5 times a year. Because I normally only drink tea, I think I get a big hit from it in terms of short term improved concentration.

I personally think the negatives outweigh benefits but I don't have peer-reviewed data to back it. 

There is some observational evidence that coffee drinking increases lifespan. I think the proposed mechanism has to do with promoting autophagy. https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M21-2977 But it looks like decaf works too. (Decaf has a bit of caffeine.)

I think somewhere else I read that unfiltered coffee doesn't improve lifespan, so try to drink the filtered stuff?

In my experience caffeine dependence is not a big deal and might help my sleep cycle.

I'd love to see a link to the unfiltered result.  I'm not even sure what "unfiltered" means in this context - eating whole beans (honestly, chocolate-covered espresso beans are delicious, but I don't imagine many people using that as their primary caffeine intake)?    Espresso vs drip?  Something else?

I cut out morning coffee because of the headaches I got on days I didn't/couldn't have it. After a couple of weeks, I didn't miss it. I still get caffeine from other sources, but it's sporadic, and I think that helps avoid the dependency headaches since my body isn't "expecting" it.

The focus produced by caffeine is enhanced by theanine (or L-theanine), which also counteracts jitters/headaches caffeine can otherwise induce. You can buy theanine in capsule form. Take 1-2 times as much theanine as caffeine. So for a cup of coffee (either brewed, or containing 2 shots espresso), which contains roughly 150mg caffeine, take say 200mg theanine.

You probably shouldn't routinely have more than 1 cup of (caffeinated) coffee a day if you want to avoid becoming tolerant of it, which removes its effects. And don't drink it in the afternoon or evening, to avoid disturbing your sleep (which may not be obvious, as your sleep can be disturbed even if you have no trouble falling asleep).

Alternatively drink tea, which has far less caffeine than coffee - so you can have as many cups as you like. Tea also contains some theanine (though rather less than the optimal dose).

Anecdata: I aim to never take caffeine  on two consecutive days, and when I do it's normally<50mg. This has worked well for me. 

Try delaying caffeine until at least 90 minutes after waking up, preferably a full 2 hours. This was recommended on the Huberman podcast. In my personal experience it removes the caffeine crash later in the day. It also seems to make days without caffeine more tolerable. 

I don't recall the hypothesized mechanism for why this helps (something like it preserves your ability to fully wake up without caffeine) but it's worth a shot.

Consider your current mental health conditions, if you have any. One of my friends (who is diagnosed with anxiety disorder) began drinking only decaf coffee because the caffeine intensified her anxious thoughts. On the opposite side of the caffeine effects spectrum, I have ADHD. I feel caffeine's physical impact (if I placed my hand on my chest I could feel a quicker heartbeat), but I otherwise feel quite relaxed after consuming it rather than jittery. Additionally, caffeine might react negatively with certain medications you take.

I did go through a very intense RedBull binging phase during my freshman year of college, which I absolutely recommend avoiding. Set limits for yourself and stay aware of any changes in your mental or physical responses. Also, congrats on your new job!

Based solely on personal experience (N=1), don't exceed 2 cups/day.

More than that and I used to get headaches on weekends when I didn't drink it. At 2 or less cups/day, no problem.

  1. Caffiene dehydrates you, which reduces intelligence, concentration, and makes you expend more of your energy per second of labor (you only have a finite amount of that energy per day). You can mitigate the hydration problems by eating food AND drinking water; it doesn't matter if it makes you use the bathroom more, that's because coffee makes you need to exchange fluids more, not because you're "drinking too much water". Most coffee drinkers do this, and they respond to the tiredness (from dehydration) by drinking more coffee, which is a death spiral.
  2. If you're looking for productivity or intelligence, anything related to nootropics or nutrition, even sleep, all takes second priority to avoiding permanent brain damage from Covid. Brain damage and fatigue-that-will-never-go-away affects far more people than conventional wisdom indicates (even if it wasn't ultra-vague). You can always use lesswrong to improve intelligence/productivity in 6 months, but if Covid ends for good in 2 months and you get long covid between now and then, then you might have to spend the rest of your life working 6 hours per day instead of 8, all because you couldn't wait 2 months for everyone to get infected with like half a dozen different omicron strains (we are closer to herd immunity than ever before). You can avoid permanent brain damage by wearing a cheap p100 mask indoors and eating outdoors, and your vaccination status probably won't help you at all.
  3. Caffeine has been widely used for as long as evening alcohol, and similarly long as evening cannabis and cocaine. The fact that everyone uses it, and even that everyone has always been expected to use it, has no bearing on reality whatsoever; it started 500 years ago because it felt good and seemed to help. So it's possible that no matter when you drink it, it might disrupt your sleep, or even reduce your sleep quality in ways you can't perceive (which will reduce intelligence or productivity).
  4. Caffeine is a stimulant, which means it is pleasurable, which means that it clearly and provably hacks the reward system of the human brain to reinforce the behavior of drinking coffee. It is very good for business, which drives up the demand and supply of coffee, until billions of people are unwilling to go a day without it.

You can always use lesswrong to improve intelligence/productivity in 6 months

Can you expand on this?

  1. Although I agree that caffeine dehydrates you, this doesn't mean it negates the stimulant effects.

  2. Some symptoms of long covid there's more research for like lung damage or loss of taste. https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/long-covid-much-more-than-you-wanted Fatigue and especially brain damage can be explained by people who are more likely to report negative symptoms after knowing they have covid.

  3. It does have some bearing on reality if people used it for a long time. There is a tradition and history behind so more are aware of it's effects. The

... (read more)
1Trevor111d
1. I agree totally. I'm biased because it doesn't for me. However, the death spiral of drinking coffee when you're dehydrated might still negate the benefits, but only after 1-2 hours. Eating might not help much. 2. Lung damage and loss of taste are totally insignificant compared to brain damage and permanent fatigue [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/emygKGXMNgnJxq3oM/your-risk-of-developing-long-covid-is-probably-high] , unless you are over 50 in which case they're still up there. It is very obviously the right thing to do to wear a cheap P100 mask indoors and eat outdoors, easily more relevant to productivity than any coffee question. 3. This is true, I'm also biased against alcohol due to my metabolism. Unfortunately, rationality of the masses on things like coffee are almost completely negated by powerful lobbying organizations like Starbucks which can influence trends (the existence of lesswrong posts like these are hard evidence against total negation of societal rationality) 4. My point with #4 was that coffee is addictive and stimulates the reward function of the brain, instantly gratifying the choice to drink coffee in the deepest way possible. I strayed from that point by focusing on the economic implications.
1Randomized, Controlled11d
I have been the only weirdo I know of who wears a P100. I say this to emphasize that I've been taking covid seriously. I don't see any reason to believe covid will be over in two months, or N months, for any value of N less than "however long it takes for humans to come into a new equilibrium with a novel virus." I don't know how long that will be, but 2 seems wrong. As someone who's worn a p100 a lot, I can also say it's hardly cost free. It has all sorts of social, convenience, physical and psychological costs. Maybe those costs are <<< than your covid risk cost. But they do exist. Personally, it's not obviously correct to me any more that the p100 is the right thing to reach for right now. Mine is currently broken, and I expect I will order a new one, but I'm also kind of happy to "just" be wearing n95s right now.

you might have to spend the rest of your life working 6 hours per day instead of 8, all because you couldn't wait 2 months for everyone to get infected with like half a dozen different omicron strains (we are closer to herd immunity than ever before). 

There seem to be enough reinfections, especially with new COVID-19 strains BA.4 and BA.5 that it's unlikely that herd immunity will stop COVID-19 in the next year.

Caffeine does not dehydrate you — in fact, it appears to be about as hydrating as water. 

-2Trevor110d
Yes, and cigarettes reduce the risk of lung cancer. This sort of thing is not new.
1randomstring10d
Caffeine: Is it dehydrating or not? - Mayo Clinic [https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/caffeinated-drinks/faq-20057965#:~:text=Drinking%20caffeine%2Dcontaining%20beverages%20as,increase%20the%20risk%20of%20dehydration.] Does Coffee Dehydrate You? (healthline.com) [https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/does-coffee-dehydrate-you]

What does Covid have to do with caffeine here??

6 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 9:10 AM

Some thoughts, I make no claim as to their accuracy:

  • In my experience, drinking too much coffee can give me a headache that makes me even more useless than if I had no coffee, this is a relatively easy magnitude to reach without trying.
  • I find it helpful to take a week every now and then where I use no caffeine at all, to help prevent my system from developing a tolerance to caffeine.
  • There exist pills that release caffeine over an extended period, for example 6 hours.

If you ever have problems with headaches that correlate with something hydration-related like napping or drinking coffee, make sure to drink more water. Dehydration is a common cause of headaches. 

Drinking more water is like turning off a computer and turning it back on again. Using the bathroom more could mean your body needed to drink more water all along; it does not necessarily indicate that you drank too much water.

My experience:

  • If you don't currently drink caffeinated drinks, an entire coffee is probably overkill for you right now. Start slow and build your way up. I find black tea and caffienated sparkling water (e.g. https://www.drinkaha.com/products/mango-black-tea) to be good pre-coffee drinks (which also don't have sugar)
  • Try to aim caffeine intake for periods where you can be heads-down working. I find caffeine less effective when I'm running meetings or being interrupted constantly.

Why work your way up at all? The lower you can keep your tolerance, the better, I'd guess?

I don't intend on ever switching away from my sencha/japanese green tea.

Unfortunately, sometimes your body doesn't give you a choice! If you use caffeine once a week, maybe you can avoid acclimating to it, but in my experience, drinking black tea went from "whoa, lots of caffeine" to "slight boost" over ~2 years of drinking it 5 days/week.

And you haven't been able to reset your tolerance with a break? Or would it not be worth it? (I can't provide any details about what the benefits would be sry)