How Addicted to Caffeine Are You?

Do you ever find yourself wondering if you drink too much coffee? I do — but as you might expect, there’s an app for that: UP Coffee. Created by Jawbone, maker of the Jambox wireless Bluetooth speaker, it’s sort of a subset of the company’s lifestyle app, UP; instead of tracking your sleep patterns, however, it logs your caffeine intake. Since it’s free (I’m a sucker for free things), I decided to try using UP Coffee for a week and see what happened. Would it help me reign in my coffee consumption? Is the amount I drink really that bad? How do I stack up compared to others in terms of my caffeine intake?

The easy-to-use app starts by asking you to adjust your settings for a more personalized experience. Telling it your gender, height, weight, target bedtime, and sensitivity to caffeine, it says, will help it log your data more accurately. Mine looked like this:

  • Gender: Female
  • Height: 5’1”
  • Weight: 103 lbs (Although I'm 29, I’m built like a 14-year-old. People tell me I will appreciate constantly getting carded at bars, restaurants, and movie theaters when I’m older. I’m not convinced it’s true, but whatever.)
  • Target bedtime: 11 p.m.
  • Caffeine sensitivity: Somewhat sensitive to caffeine

It’s worth noting that I may have overestimated my caffeine sensitivity. It does tend to perk me up a little, so I selected “somewhat”; it’s possible, though, that I’m closer to “a little sensitive.” Self-assessing things like this can be tricky, so bear in mind that you might accidentally skew your results — it sort of depends on how accurate your guesswork is.

Anyway, once you’ve personalized your settings, all that’s left to do is to log your caffeine intake each day as precisely as possible: What you consume, how much of it you consume, and exactly when you consume it. UP Coffee has a pretty extensive database of items, ranging from types of coffee and tea to sodas, energy drinks, candy, and supplements; as such, it’s not too difficult to find what you’re looking for. It even includes entries for specific Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts specialty beverages.

As you log your caffeine, UP Coffee shows gives you a couple of graphical representations as to what's going on in your body. The first shows how much caffeine you have in your system as soon as you drink it:

For the curious, the image on the far left is how much caffeine I still had in my system from the day before when I woke up on Sept. 18; the one in the middle is after one cup of coffee; and the one on the far right is after two cups.

And the second shows you how long it'll take for what you've consumed to make its way out of your body:

Again, these two graphs are from Sept. 18; the one on the left is after one cup of coffee, and the one on the right is after two.

I kind of wish it tracked trends — for example, a graph illustrating how my caffeine consumption changed over the course of a week — but these individual daily charts are a good place to start.

Here’s what I learned from a week on UP Coffee:

1. Shame is problematic no matter what it’s applied to

I’m usually pretty good about limiting my caffeine intake even without the app, mostly because I tend to follow a schedule: During the week, I have one eight-ounce cup of coffee at 8:10 a.m. when I first sit down in front of my computer to start working; I have a second when I eat breakfast at around 9:00 a.m.; and after that, I try to stay away from it for the rest of the day. The couple of times I kind of wanted a third cup later in the day, though? It wasn’t the knowledge of how much caffeine would still be in my system by the time I hit the hay at around 11 o’clock that night that stopped me from drinking it; it was the shame of watching the “tonight’s sleep” dial move from “poor” to “awful.” In this case, it’s true that drinking less coffee is probably healthier — but I still think shame as a motivator tends to build unhealthy relationships with whatever you’re trying to cut back on. Not so good.

2. The UP Coffee community consumes a metric fuckton of caffeine

According to UP Coffee’s metrics, I consume an average of 175 mg of caffeine per day. That seemed like a lot to me at first, especially given the fact that every time I logged my second cup of the day, the “tonight’s sleep” dial bumped itself over to “poor”; apparently, though, it’s substantially less than what most people consume. Meanwhile, the average female in the UP Coffee community consumes 250mg of caffeine every day.

3. I probably rely on coffee to get me going in the morning a little more than I should

As I mentioned earlier, I tend to stick to a schedule when it comes to my caffeine: two cups of coffee in the morning, then pretty much nothing for the rest of the day (and that includes other forms of caffeine — I’m not a soda drinker, I don’t take supplements, and I don’t currently have any chocolate in the house tempting me after dinner). UP Coffee keeps track not only of how much caffeine you consume, but also when you consume it — and generally, I consume 100 percent of mine before 10:00 a.m. It’s true that I find it a little difficult to get going in the morning without my first cup of joe; what I’m not certain about, though, is whether it’s because I’m mildly addicted to caffeine, or whether it’s because my taste buds have come to expect a dose of coffee-flavored goodness in the morning and really want that craving satisfied.

It might be worth performing a future experiment in which I replace my high-test brew with decaf for a week and see if I still crave it in the mornings (although I’m not sure I’m dedicated enough to follow through on it).

4. If you’re tired enough, sometimes it doesn’t matter when you drink your caffeine

Anecdote time: On Saturday, September 20, I woke up at 7:45 a.m. so I could make the two-and-a-half-hour trip from my suburban New Jersey home into NYC in order to go to the Maker Faire (which is awesome, by the way, and if you missed it this year, you should definitely go next year). I left the house at 9:15 a.m. and got to the Faire itself at around 12:30 p.m. By the time I left the Faire at about 4 o’clock, I was starting to fade — but since I had dinner plans with friends in the city, I couldn’t head home quite yet. As such, I did what many of us do when we need to keep going in the face of exhaustion: I grabbed a cup of coffee (and yes, it was a Pumpkin Spice Latte). Even though I drank it late in the day, though, I was so beat by the time I got home that I slept like the proverbial log that night — in spite of the fact that UP Coffee told me I’d probably have issues dropping off. I’ll admit that I’m not entirely sure what to do with this observation, but I still think it’s interesting.

Am I going to keep using UP Coffee? Probably not; I feel like I have a pretty good handle on my caffeine habits, and to be honest, it’s kind of a pain to have to remember to log everything right when you consume it. But for those who either want to know how they compare with others or who want to try to cut back, it might be a useful tool to have. You can even hook it up with UP proper, which will track how your sleep habits line up with your caffeine ones. Find out more about it on Jawbone’s website, and nab it in the iTunes app store here.

Images: Wiffle Gif; Lucia Peters (3); Friday Night Dinner/Tumblr; Giphy (2)