What food and sleep do for clarity
Coffee is heralded as a core focus drug. It’s associated with the world of reading, writing, and progress.
In fact, scientists have studied its ability to promote brain entropy, which makes it possible for the brain to process more information. It’s also associated with a reduced risk of cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke.
Coffee has even been deemed responsible for the acceleration of the Enlightenment. The first coffee house in England opened around 1671, becoming a place where intellectuals gathered to sip and talk about ideas late into the night. Coffee took culture from an emphasis on depressants to the widespread use of stimulants, and with this shift came enhanced modes of thinking.
However, sometimes you enter the dark side of coffee. Instead of boosting concentration, it scatters. It’s a happy nervousness, granted, but you drank it for energy and focus. Now your work is harder because you are not sitting still. Perhaps it’s even introduced a twitchiness throughout your body.
“Sure, I’ll make a statement but you’ll have a lot of trouble understanding it.” -Robert Anton Wilson
Drinking coffee can also become a psychological trap resembling dependency. In the morning, it becomes harder to wake up without it. Tasks become burdensome until we have it. Many shirts and mugs convene to make light of this problem.
However, sleep is a process of regeneration. When honored it produces a deep and clean wakefulness. Acting as if alertness depends on caffeine demonstrates a basic distrust in the body. Everything is happening on schedule. Your resistance to leaving the bed is being honest with you. Have you heard that karma is getting what you want? Your yawn speaks the language of the food you gave your body.
“The forceful and violent will not die from natural causes.” — Tao Te Ching
Maybe you’re thinking, “It isn’t that I need coffee but that I like to have it.” Me too. There is a unique comfort in something that is both delicious and capable of altering our mood.
But when we believe that an interesting or productive day is impossible without caffeine, we might look at why we’re prone to daytime sleepiness in the first place.
Let’s explore the root causes of your sleepiness. We’re not tired because of the absence of caffeine. There are systems operating beneath your skin and mood. After all, why is your body hospitable to exhaustion? Then we will look at foods that naturally boost our cognition.
Foods and actions at war with each other
Battles are followed by years of famine. — Tao Te Ching
If you eat a bagel for breakfast then spend six hours at a desk, welcome to anxiety and sluggishness. After you eat simple carbohydrates, blood sugar increases quickly, spiking insulin, and leading to a blood sugar crash. This abrupt decrease in blood sugar can strain the adrenal glands. Such glands produce cortisol and the fight-or-flight response. Such a spike is never optimal, but sitting and moving after eating a bagel are two very different things. When you sit after eating a lot of carbohydrates, you are supplying your body with energy for which it has no outlet.
In addition, eating a lot of sugar inhibits Orexin, the brain chemical that stimulates feelings of wakefulness. If you want to eat donuts, cake, or cookies, don’t do it in the morning or on a day when you intend on focusing.
“Every day I find it a struggle to impersonate myself.” -Gabor Maté
You’ve probably heard that your bed and phone are not friends. Blue light interferes with melatonin production. If you’re on your phone or computer after dark, you are tricking your body. Your physiology processes the light as a sign of daytime. Disrupted circadian rhythms increase our risk for neuro-degenerative diseases. The brain protein beta amyloid increases with wakefulness and is diminished by sleep disruption. Sleep disruption has been identified as a core driver of Alzheimer’s
“You get everything you say yes to, and everything you say no to.” -Frederick E. Dodson
Considering the link between longevity and quality sleep, coffee isn’t enough to erase a lack of sleep. If you drink it at night or in the afternoon, you are disrupting the body’s alignment with the sun cycles.
Instead of exacerbating our chronic tiredness with coffee, we can change what we eat and our internal atmosphere will change too.
The foods that naturally energize
Leafy greens like kale, spinach, collard greens and broccoli. These foods have nutrients like vitamin k, lutein, folate, beta carotene. All help slow cognitive decline. In turn, both folate and vitamin B-12 are critical for normal nervous system function throughout all ages. Folate can be rapidly broken down by the body, which means that it can supply alertness at a fast pace.
Dark chocolate and berries. Both contain flavonoids, antioxidants important for brain health. Cacao flavonoids in particular encourage neuron and blood vessel growth in parts of the brain involved in memory and learning. According to a 2013 review, they even stimulate increased blood flow. Dark chocolate has the best therapeutic use at least 65 percent cocoa or higher.
In addition, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and mulberries improve communication between cells, reduce inflammation, which is the underlying factor in all chronic disease. Berries also increase neuroplasticity (which makes possible new neuronal connections) and reduce age-related decline.
Sunflower seeds, almonds, and hazelnuts. All contain omega-3 fatty acids, which help build membranes around each cell in the body, improving their structure. They’re also associated with better sleep and less bedtime resistance. More sleep means more alertness, naturally. In addition, they also contain antioxidants. Both features contribute to their ability to help improve brain function in old age.
Nuts and seeds are also a rich source of vitamin E, which protects cells from oxidative stress caused by free radicals, or unpaired electrons that are highly reactive to other molecules. These become a problem when they steal electrons from DNA, lipids, or protein to become stabilized. This process plays a role in the development of cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. The antioxidants found in nuts and seeds are helpful because they donate electrons to free radicals without destabilizing.
Surely this places the drive to “eat to live” ahead of living to eat. We thrive when eating becomes an opportunity to invigorate our bodies at a cellular level.
Using coffee to energize instead of looking at the underlying factors contributing to chronic tiredness won’t be sustainable. It’s not so different from putting a band-aid over a wound filled with glass — until you remove the glass and clean the wound, your problems will continue.
Coffee is best honored as a tasty and potent mood changer. Considering its neuroprotective benefits and capacity to aid our alertness at record speed, there’s no reason to give it up all together.
However, if we feel that productivity requires coffee, we are invited to re-calibrate. Maybe we want to get more sleep, change our diet, or change our daily activities. Maybe we want to arrange lives that excite us by nurturing our talents, intelligence, and creativity. Such things don’t require us to artificially heighten our alertness because they’re motivating in and of themselves. We are stimulated by our own processes, entering a flow state.