Podcast 042: Sleep – Of Cravings, Comedians, & Caffeine

In this episode both Ryn & Katja have things to share related to sleep. Katja leads off with a listener question about alcohol cravings at bedtime, then discusses some of her own strategies for coping with restless thoughts that interfere with rest. Ryn lays out the effects of caffeine in the body to help you understand how it can in fact interfere with sleep, even many hours after consumption.

Herbs discussed include tulsi, ginger & chamomile, coffee, & tea.

Mentioned in this podcast:

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If you like our podcast, you might like learning from us in a more intentional way – like with our Family Herbalist program! It’s a great way to start incorporating herbs into your daily life, to keep you and your loved ones healthy and resilient all year round!

Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.

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Episode Transcript

Katja (00:00:12):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:00:14):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:00:14):
And we’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:00:18):
and on the Internet everywhere thanks to the power of the podcast.

Katja (00:00:22):
All right. We have to do the part where we say we’re not doctors. We’re herbalists and holistic health educators.

Ryn (00:00:29):
The ideas we discussed in our podcasts do not constitute medical advice, no state or federal authority licenses, herbalists in the US. So these discussions are for educational purposes only. Everyone’s body is different, so the things we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you, but they will give you some more information to think about and researched further.

Katja (00:00:48):
We want to remind you that your good health is your own personal responsibility, but final decision in considering any course of therapy, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by your physician, is always yours.

Ryn (00:00:59):
Indeed.

Katja (00:01:01):
So let’s see. This week we have some shout outs, one to Katie who sent us an email saying she found the podcast through the blog and we’re so happy you’re enjoying it. Yay.

Ryn (00:01:12):
Yay.

Katja (00:01:13):
And on itunes, a bunch of people give us reviews. Thank you so much. Including Josie Egan, Dana who laughs Sylvia plath and someone who managed to make their itunes handle a smiley face and a contented face, which is super cool.

Ryn (00:01:28):
Was there a super cool face?

Katja (00:01:32):
No, it was just to basic.

Ryn (00:01:33):
That’s the one with three pairs of sunglasses. That’s how you get cooler.

Katja (00:01:38):
So actually smiley face, contented face actually also put a question in their review we thought was really fun and the question was, wait, before I say did I say thank you guys so much for writing us reviews.

Ryn (00:01:53):
Thank you. We really appreciate it.

Katja (00:01:54):
Not only did we really appreciate it because it helps us on the Internet, but we also really appreciate it because, it makes us feel good too.

Ryn (00:02:03):
Well, there’s like real people behind those names out there.

Katja (00:02:06):
It makes us really excited when you guys write or when you write down what you like about the pod and we’re like, Yay. We are not just weird people sitting with a microphone and a bunch of animals pontificating, but you. But there’s people out there.

Ryn (00:02:23):
We’re not just that.

Katja (00:02:25):
Just that.

Ryn (00:02:25):
I mean we are that but we’re other things as well.

Katja (00:02:28):
Anyway, so thank you guys very much. okay, so smiley face, contented face wanted to know what would you recommend for lessening alcohol cravings. They’re not an alcoholic, but they’ve developed a pattern in the evenings of having a glass of wine or some alcoholic drink before bed. So that’s a really good question and that actually plays right into what I wanted to talk about today. Ryn just made a face at me like, Oh yes, what does that.

Ryn (00:02:59):
That’s exactly what I was facing. It was indeed.

Cravings and Tulsi

Katja (00:03:04):
So yeah, I wanted to talk about sleep and some other things involved, but first I want to say a little about the craving question. So the very first thing that pops to my mind always when I think about managing cravings, frankly, even before my brain kicks in enough to think about it, is Tulsi. Tulsi, which is also sometimes called Holy Basil. It really does help kick cravings. And here’s my theory about the mechanism of action behind that. It’s twofold. First, Tulsi stimulates the hippocampus function and the hippocampus is where we process our experiences into longterm memories. So when we’re craving things, that’s often a kind of comfort or a coping mechanism and if we can stimulate moving past the thing that is causing us to seek comfort, then it’s easier to make the change that we’re trying to make.

Ryn (00:04:01):
Yeah.

Katja (00:04:02):
And I should say here sometimes a craving is because when nutrient deficiency, like if you’re craving salt, often not always, but often that’s your body telling you that actually you need minerals and you should maybe have a good seaweed rich Bone Broth. Of course you can also have some chips because that’s nice. Not necessarily healthy but it’s not evil.

Ryn (00:04:25):
But what happens though, it’s like people get a salt craving and then they reach for the nearest, you know, Frito lay company product that they can find and then they eat it and then the craving doesn’t really go away.

Katja (00:04:38):
Right? Because still didn’t get any magnesium or selenium or whatever else, you know. So Seaweed. So just, you know, if you have chips because you’re craving them, then also have some seaweed and you.

Ryn (00:04:50):
I have not tried throwing a handful of dulse into a bag of potato chips and then just taking what I get, but maybe that would be great.

Katja (00:04:58):
Actually that could be awesome.

Ryn (00:04:59):
All right, well we will experiment on that one and get back to you next week.

Katja (00:05:04):
Anyway, in this particular case, the question from Smiley face contented face, I think that we’re more in the coping and comfort realm than in the mineral realm, in that kind of craving. And the other cool thing about tulsi that I think really relates to cravings is that it supports a healthy hormonal cascade. So remember that hormones aren’t just about your menstrual cycle or how much muscle mass you have. Hormones control all the different cycles of our bodies. Really everything from how we respond to stress, to how hungry we feel, to when we feel like it’s time to sleep and a whole ton of other things. And herb, that’s the support a healthy balance of all the hormones in our bodies is going to help us feel more centered and more balanced and not, let me try that again. More centered and more balanced and less like we need to crave comfort and support.

Katja (00:06:05):
So that’s Tulsi. I think that can, can really just always be appropriate. so my second thought here. Oh, and I guess, how that would be appropriate Tulsi tastes pretty great, so I would just say work with Tulsi as tea throughout the day. A three to four cups of tea a day should be a good place to start and you can either get it loose leaf or Organic India makes it a really good quality, bagged tea bag version of Tulsi so that can be good too. Alright, my second thought here is, that this is a really common kind of soft self-medicating. Alcohol is a depressant. So a person who may have a very stimulated mind or very stimulated emotions may find it easier to move towards sleep after a dose of alcohol. So if we’re looking at changing patterns to support, resolving the root conditions, addressing the difficulty of relaxing into sleep can reduce the feeling that a glass of wine is required to sleep.

Katja (00:07:21):
And again, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a glass of wine or an alcoholic beverage from time to time. And I think that slightly face contented place doesn’t, is not proposing that either, just that maybe it’s come to a place where it’s sort of because it’s an every night kind of thing. It’s becoming a habit and that can, that can go down a bad direction. So I think that that’s what we’re looking at is what can we do to reduce the feeling that that’s required in an evening. So we’ve talked about sleep a little in the past, but it was on my mind again anyway. And then with smiling face, contented faces question, it really just sort of sealed the deal for me that this is what I want to talk about.

Katja (00:08:08):
So here we go. there are some things over the years that are, that I have found to be really, really dependable sleep aids even in tough situations, so I want to talk about that, but I also want to use this topic as a way to illustrate the virtues of not being dogmatic and I think that as people who are looking at how to be really healthy or how to achieve ideal health or you know, whatever, there, it can be really easy to fall into a dogma trap. And so anytime that I can think about practicing herbalism but not practicing dogma, then that’s a win for me. That’s always challenging my own ideas about what is right. like everyone must always do this thing if they want to be healthy, you know, like, it’s so easy to fall into that. So I’m always pushing myself to not be dogmatic about my recommendations and about the way that I think about health.

Changing Sleep

Katja (00:09:13):
And I liked to push other people in that direction as well. Tammi Sweet is one of our very favorite herbalists. And, she teaches a really excellent anatomy and physiology class for herbalists that if you are nervous about amp or if that level of science makes you kind of get sweaty palms, you would really like her class. I think she’s makes it super accessible. And you know, she says all the time, she says it in that class all the time, but she just also says all the time, that pain is a signal to change your behavior. And I think about that a lot, as it relates to sleep. And actually I think about it a lot as it relates to everything because when something hurts and you don’t know what to do, change something, it may not be the perfect change that you make on the very first try.

Katja (00:10:10):
But that’s okay because you have to start somewhere. And this by the way, is a very good way to stay sane with teenagers, both in terms of guiding your behavior as a parent and also in terms of understanding their behavior. That pain is a signal to change your behavior. And sometimes that’s what’s going on. And sometimes that’s what’s necessary. Tangent aside, so with regard to sleep, one of my favorite behavior changes personally in my body and also to recommend, specifically around sleep is that when I’m having trouble sleeping, I like to try to eat much earlier in the evening, which might sound like a very simple thing, but if I eat late at night it makes it much harder for me to sleep regardless of whatever else is going on. Even if everything else is ideal, if I eat late a night, it is much harder for me to sleep.

Katja (00:11:03):
And the second part of this problem is that it’s not always immediately apparent to me in that moment. It’s a lot easier to see that and remember it after I’ve made the change and then I say, oh, right, that was a thing and it’s so much easier to fall asleep on a not filled up stomach, but that’s easier for me to see afterwards than before. So I really like to just put this at the top of my behavior change list so that I don’t forget it. And then another thing that I really like to try is to stop working earlier in my evening and to be honest, sometimes I work right up until that time and that’s definitely not conducive to falling asleep. This is a change that can be really hard for me to make also often just because the time gets away from me, but to be honest more often it’s because I feel like there is so much to do tm you know, or whatever. And so I just don’t want to stop or I don’t feel like I have the time to stop.

Katja (00:12:09):
So if instead I stopped working a couple hours before bed and I have some tea, that does make a really big shift for me. So I really love Ginger Chamomile to get to sleep. And then lately I’ve also been adding Hawthorn into basically everything I drink. The ginger and Chamomile are both very antispasmodic and relaxing in a way that really works exceptionally well for my body, to help me relax into sleep and into a place where I can think about sleep. Hawthorn is really wonderful for when there’s grief or sadness or heaviness of heart. It doesn’t mask what’s going on, it just gives you a feeling of support to get through it. And also catnip is a great addition, especially if you have some rising feelings of anger, or even more, especially if you are trying to keep those feelings down because you’re trying to be mature and you went to, you know, like, I’m not going to be angry right now or whatever reason, but you’re feeling angry and you’re trying to keep it down.

Katja (00:13:15):
I really think that right now, this blend, the ginger chamomile, Hawthorn and catnip would be so beneficial for people just all over the country. I think that so many people right now are hurting and I am literally seeing this affect the sleep of every single client that I’m working with right now and that I have been working with for the last months. It’s a big deal. So whether there’s something traumatic happening in your own life specifically right now or whether you’re just responding to the pain that’s in so many parts of our world right now, it’s really useful to acknowledge the role that that plays in your ability to settle into sleep. So ginger chamomile is always my go to, but that’s why I’ve really been focusing more and more on the cat nip and the Hawthorn, making that part of the formula lately as well.

Katja (00:14:11):
So next on my list of things to do, you might be expecting me to say, and in those couple of hours before bed while I’m drinking tea, I made sure to do lots of relaxing stuff and stay away from television and meditate and do yoga and like whatever. That’s true. I often do suggest that. Light from screens, whether it’s a television screen or a computer screen or a cell phone screen, whatever, it interferes with Melatonin production and that makes it very hard to sleep. Plus media in general is often very emotionally stimulating and that is the opposite of relaxation. So I often talk about, you know, like oh listen to some nice music and have a nice relaxing whatever with some candles and that’s really nice and it does help you sleep, but maybe it’s not always the best idea. I sort of feel like desperate times can call for distracting measures.

Katja (00:15:14):
That’s Kinda like my motto lately. I’m all for meditation and I really liked the headspace app for that or reading Pema Chodron before bed and I’ve gained a lot of value from those things in my life. But sometimes if you’re really agitated or if you’re in the middle of some big upheaval and the emotions and the stress and the thoughts are really strong, sometimes a lovely meditation session is just not going to cut it. It’s just not strong enough to like stand up to those big emotional stress feelings that you’re having. So in those cases, I think it’s time to see the meditation of distraction because we think about it. The purpose of meditation is not as we might think to empty the mind. A mind doesn’t really empty. Meditation is an exercise in not latching onto thoughts that cause us to spiral off in negative directions and sometimes the best meditation technique is to intentionally choose an uplifting form of media and allow it to control the direction of your thoughts for awhile.

Katja (00:16:29):
So in this regard, I think Netflix is really performing a service to society because they’re producing so many standup comedian shows that literally you can watch a different one every night for a really long time. And Pandora if you prefer audio. Pandora has a comedian channel and I’m sure there’s lots of other comedy outlets as well that are very convenient. So these days when it’s time for me to stop working and drink tea, I’ll watch a comedian. This has some side benefits besides keeping my mind in a really positive place. It’s also enjoyable and that means it’s a good motivation for me to stop working and drink my tea. You know, like I have something to look forward to. I’m not saying I have to keep working, I don’t want to drink my tea. You know, it’s like, okay, it’s time to stop working now, make a pot of tea and go watch a comedian that’s enjoyable.

Katja (00:17:21):
So it’s not only keeping my thoughts focused, but it’s also enjoyable and yes, it’s a screen with blue spectrum light and that’s not good for my melatonin production, but in this particular case, the larger problem is keeping my mind in a positive place. So, podcasts are another treasure trove that I am really getting into in this regard lately. My favorite form of before bed meditation is the Irish history podcast. I’m very interested anyway.

Ryn (00:18:01):
You should write to them and leave a review to that effect.

Katja (00:18:04):
I should in fact.

Ryn (00:18:06):
Perhaps not the part where you tell them that I fall asleep almost immediately. The other part where you say thank you for. Yeah.

Katja (00:18:14):
Yeah. Anyway, the Irish history podcast. I’m really interested in learning the history of Ireland. I have roots in Ireland and I don’t really know the whole history very well, I know some parts, but not all.

Katja (00:18:28):
this podcast starts in like the year 800, so there’s a lot to listen to. And the guy who does it has a lovely accent. And a pleasant voice and he makes a bunch of dates and battles sound way more interesting than you’d imagine. he’s also a, he has a lot of integrity as a historian, so I really appreciate that as well as a person who loves to binge on history. it’s really, it’s interesting enough I have to hold my attention and when my mind starts to wander just exactly in meditation, when we come back to the breath, in this case I say, oh wait, come back to the history. And maybe right now the emotions that I’m trying not to latch onto and not to spiral up with or spiraled down with whatever direction you want to be thinking about. Maybe they’re too strong for the breath to be enough to pull me back.

Katja (00:19:27):
But in that case, Mr Irish guy doing the Irish history podcasts is enough to bring me back. And that’s really good. It’s, it’s the exact same practice. It’s just that sometimes you need something that’s louder than a gong. And for me right now, this is it. So when I go to bed, I spent literally zero time just laying there trying to sleep. I totally do not do it at all because I don’t want to give my mind to the opportunity to get spun up. So instead I start the podcast before I even turn out the light and what I’ve found is that with a pod to focus on, I can fall asleep in literally record time. It used to take me hours to fall asleep and now I can fall asleep in like 15 minutes, maybe 20 minutes and I can tell because of the last thing I remember from the podcast the next day.

Katja (00:20:18):
So that’s amazing for me. That’s like a whole new level of, of getting to sleep for me. And when I wake up at the night in the middle of the night, if I have to pee or whatever, I do exactly the same thing. I don’t spend any time at all trying to fall back asleep. I just start the podcast again and I have earbuds for if I don’t want to bother Ryn, I just use one in one ear and when I fall asleep and like moved my head, it falls out and it’s totally fine. And I set the to turn itself off after a certain amount of time. So that’s good. Anyway.

Ryn (00:20:53):
It’s actually not just podcasts because sometimes in the evening, I read to you.

Katja (00:20:59):
Yes. And I love that.

Ryn (00:21:01):
And if you live in a household where certain members of the family go to bed at a reasonable, you know, civilized time and certain other members of the family might still be awake for three or four more hours. Before they get around to laying down then for you night owls, I would urge you to consider reading something delightful to your family and lovers and friends.

Katja (00:21:30):
Who like to go to bed early.

Ryn (00:21:33):
And if they struggle with falling asleep, it turns out that works really well. the worst thing that can happen is you’ll have to read the chapter over again because she fell asleep and I didn’t notice until the end of the story. And you know what, that’s actually not that bad.

Katja (00:21:50):
So what I recommend is, request them to read the We Free Men and the whole Tiffany Aching series, especially if you’re a night owl partner is a person who’s really good at doing accents and voices in stories, which mine is and….

Ryn (00:22:14):
Ssssh….Don’t tell them. Because then they’ll want to hear it, you know.

Katja (00:22:17):
Oh, I bet they really do want to hear it. You should just read chapters of it for the podcast outloud. I’m sure that’s a copyright infringement in some way. But like, seriously you guys, he’s so good and.

Ryn (00:22:28):
well thanks.

Katja (00:22:30):
And it is delightful. It helps me to sleep. It helps me to settle in, but it’s also such a beautiful expression of love and intimacy and there, you know, like our culture only has a very minute number of, you know, ways.

Ryn (00:22:48):
Yeah.

Katja (00:22:48):
We’re taught to express that.

Ryn (00:22:50):
and I don’t know if this is like tmi or whatever, but like for us, I think it’s been really important to our relationship as a way that I can give you some intimacy and something that’s soothing and calming and delightful. And there have been large, large parts of my life where I had no idea how to do that in any way other than sex because that’s what I was

Katja (00:23:15):
because that’s what you were socialized to.

Ryn (00:23:18):
value and prioritize above basically everything. So, hey guys, if that’s also been your experience, you’re definitely not the only one. I’m pretty sure it’s most of us.

Katja (00:23:31):
Yeah.

Ryn (00:23:32):
So consider this. That’s really worth worthwhile. Yeah.

Katja (00:23:36):
Yeah.

Ryn (00:23:38):
And it fits in with other things too. Sometimes I rub your back for awhile and then read to you for awhile.

Katja (00:23:43):
Yeah, it is. It’s really lovely and it really helps to focus. It’s, you know, you don’t have to just sit there and wrestle your brain into a straight jacket. That’s not the only way to meditate. It’s not the only way to calm down anyway. Well, hopefully these kinds of ideas can be helpful for you. It’s definitely great to have some skullcap and passion flower. Those are really good for the spinning thoughts. And a lot of times Ryn will bring me that when it’s time to lay down. And usually my response is like, seriously chamomile and ginger will solve all problems. I do have some of that next to the bed, but just incorporate the herbs that work best for you to keep you calm and level, but really consider all your options and don’t let it be, but I should turn off all the screens and I shouldn’t meditate and I should, should, should like don’t let that get in the way of finding the tools that you need to get the job done and of being creative because the way that you get the job done may not be the same every time.

Katja (00:24:53):
Whether this is figuring out how to get yourself to sleep at night or any other health issue that you’re thinking about. There’s the, what works for you in this moment is not necessarily going to be what works for you a year from now. Maybe it will be, but maybe it won’t be. So be creative and, and let yourself be free from Dogma and free form should and, and find what works even if it seems counterintuitive. And thank you for reading to me.

Ryn (00:25:26):
No problem, lassie. Alright, so we, yeah, I want to actually talk about something related to sleep as well. So we had a cohesive theme for our podcast today.

Katja (00:25:36):
We don’t plan the theme part ahead of time. We just Sorta, I think about my thing and he thinks about his thing and then we’d come together and say, Ooh, so what are you going to talk about?

Caffeine & Sleep

Ryn (00:25:44):
Yeah. well today I wanted to talk a bit about the connections between caffeine and sleep disturbances. So a caffeine is one of my favorite phyto chemicals, so I’m just, I’m very interested in it. it’s got a huge hold on our society and our culture and it has for a couple hundred years now so.

Katja (00:26:11):
It has influenced so much of the development of Western civilization and science civilization and I mean in ways that I think unless you study the history of coffee or the history of those eras like the 1700’sand in the 1600’s like you, you really can’t fathom how much coffee has created the society that we are today.

Ryn (00:26:37):
Yeah, yeah. You can take a walk down the block and you can just count the number of starbucks or Dunkin donuts or whatever is where you guys live and you can see a testament to that. So I mean, you know, as one of the most frequently consumed a beverages, and here I’m thinking of all of the caffeine containing herbal brews that people consume, you know, tea is like the second most commonly consumed a fluid amongst humans in the world after only water and then coffee somewhere on the list. Pretty, pretty high as well. But, you know, so people are drinking a lot of caffeine and most of us aren’t really thinking about it too much. So it’s worth understanding this molecule a little bit. let’s just begin with a brief review of what caffeine does in the human body. Caffeine is part of a group of chemicals called xanthine alkaloids, and that just means that you begin with a structure called the a Xanthine or a Methylxanthines. And then that can get metabolized into other things. it in most plants that will get metabolized into Theobromine, which you might be familiar from a cacao chocolate and then from there, Theobromine gets metabolized into caffeine and this serves a bunch of different functions for the plants. It discourages pests from feeding on it. Got some antioxidant functions.

Katja (00:28:02):
Encourages human pests to feed on.

Ryn (00:28:04):
It does. There is that problem. But on the other hand, we also then cultivate that plant widely. I’m thinking back to like Michael Pollan’s thesis and the botany of desire that, you know, if you view the world from the coffee plants perspective,

Katja (00:28:18):
Coffee won.

Ryn (00:28:18):
Coffee is having a good run there. Yeah, it was a convinced us to spread its genius all over the world. Yeah. So, alright, well, in humans, a caffeine’s primary action is to eventually, what it does is it binds to the receptor sites for a neurotransmitter called adenosine or people say identizine.

Ryn (00:28:45):
But adenosine is something that you make a all the time and it’s basically an inhibitory or a sedative agent in your central nervous system. So then your brain and your spinal column. What happens is that over the course of the day, more and more adenosine is produced and it goes and it binds to these receptors in your, in your brain, and the more that accumulates over the course of the day, the sleepy or you get. Adenosine actually has two different receptors in the brain, one of them, when adenosine binds, that causes relaxation of the muscles and that feeling of sleepiness or feeling tired the other receptor, when adenosine binds to that, it actually inhibits the release of certain neurotransmitters that are stimulating in nature or like uplifting. So dopamine and glutamate are two examples there.

Ryn (00:29:44):
These are things that normally when they’re released, they wake you up to give you a feel good rush. They make you more alert and stimulated and so adenosine downregulates them. So that again, it’s pushing you in that direction of being calm and, and sedated and ready to go to sleep. So this sort of makes sense if you think about it, like you wake up and these levels are low, your brain is basically clearing them out over the course of the night while you sleep. You wake up, levels are low, they accumulate over the day, and you get more and more tired the longer you stay awake. All right? So what caffeine does is it binds to those same receptors sites, but it obviously doesn’t have the same effect that adenosine does, but it gets in the way. It prevents adenosine from binding there. And so that effect to induce sleepiness and calm you down and interfere with these stimulating a signals in the brain, that means that you remain wakeful for a longer period of time.

Ryn (00:30:43):
So okay. So that’s the basic idea about what’s going on. The net effect there is that it’s going to stimulate your central nervous system. It’s going to keep you awake. It also has a stimulating effect on your heart and your lungs. So your heart beats faster, your lungs, you know, have a little greater degree of gas exchange. And this is all like stimulating, waking up, getting, getting things powered. Alright. another thing to know about caffeine in the human body has to do with the way that its metabolism plays out over time. So when you drink some coffee, the level of caffeine in your bloodstream is going to peak about an hour after consumption. And this is more or less true for any source of caffeine. There are some things in coffee that actually make the peak come on a little earlier and stick around a bit longer in comparison to what you get when you drink tea or your yerba mate or whatever else, but more or less, you know, about an hour after consumption is when caffeine is peeking in your body.

Ryn (00:31:50):
and then we also measure, we’re interested in the, what we call the half life of this molecule in your system. And that basically means it’s the time it takes your body to reduce the amount by half. So if you consumed 100 milligrams of caffeine, your body will process through 50 milligrams of that, in this period of time. And we, we call it the half lifetime, right? So for quote unquote healthy adults, that’s recommended about three to four hours. And I say quote unquote healthy adults there because like any other time we’re looking at, claims being made about healthy adults are about normal people or whatever the word being used as this reflects the research subjects that were available. and most research is done on a undergraduate college aged white males. it’s a big problem in science. It’s, you know, I’m well known in whatever, but you know, so okay.

Katja (00:32:54):
Plus we’re just making an assumption that they’re healthy.

Ryn (00:32:56):
Well, yeah, like they had no obvious problems. They didn’t fill out, like check off any boxes on the survey form for can you join my study or not? Yeah. You know, right. so three to four hours at least, let’s say for you to clear, not all but half of the caffeine out of your system. But we do know that these times can be extended. So for instance, if you are a woman taking the birth control pill, then the half life of caffeine in your body could be five or 10 hours and if you’re a pregnant person then it could be as long as nine or even 11 hours for you to again reduce the amount of caffeine in your body by half.

Katja (00:33:40):
And this is going to be true for anybody taking exogenous hormones. Anybody taking a birth control pill for any reason or anybody taking any other exogenous hormones.

Ryn (00:33:51):
right.

Katja (00:33:52):
It’s going to really raise the time it takes for your liver to clear the caffeine out because your liver is busy clearing out a whole bunch of other stuff too.

Ryn (00:34:02):
Exactly. Yeah. Right. And that is one of the things that’s gonna influence this and this, you know, clearance time or this half life is that individual sensitivity to caffeine is relative. And so like what’s excessive for one person versus another person that’s also gonna be relative or individualized or it’s going to have that degree of variability to it. So, you know, when we’ve ingested some caffeine and it’s circulated around for awhile, it gets cleared out of the system, primarily in the liver. so this is in a biotransformation or you know, people usually refer to this as a detoxification system, which is basically just a pile of different enzymes that break things down and it’s called the cytochrome p 4:50 and this has a bunch of different pathways in it. if you get into studying or drug interactions, you’ll, you’ll learn a bit about that.

Ryn (00:34:56):
the caffeine, for any of you nerds out there is cleared through the CYP1A2 pathway, and that’s only worth knowing if we consider what else works through that pathway or relies on that same set of enzymes to get broken down. Right? So for instance, we know that nicotine and insulin are two substances that enhance the activity of the CYP1A2 enzyme pool. And so this, this actually is something that kind of explains the sort of archetype of the black coffee and cigarettes for breakfast.

Katja (00:35:31):
Yeah I was going to say.

Ryn (00:35:33):
Yeah, because if you smoke a, you can drink more caffeine and experience less stimulation. I’m not advocating this as a good plan. same thing actually, if you have a hyper insulinemia a situation going on, which is to say you’ve got too much insulin in your bloodstream, it’s not leaving the bloodstream in a timely manner. This means you’ve got insulin resistance. You’re on your way to diabetes.

Katja (00:36:02):
So this is coffee and donuts for breakfast.

Ryn (00:36:04):
Exactly. Yeah. So a watch out. so, yeah, and llike you indicated in a minute ago, caffeine isn’t the only substance broken down along this pathway. So some of your steroid hormones like cortisol and estrogen, other substances we might consume like alcohol, they’re also broken down in this pathway. So just.

Katja (00:36:26):
A lot of pharmaceutical drugs are as well.

Ryn (00:36:28):
Yep. So there’s competition for these resources, right? And this can cut both ways. For instance, people who have like really excessive caffeine consumption, they might develop a degree of like excessive estrogen in their body, have hypoestrogenism you call it because the liver has been so busy dealing with all this caffeine. And then there’s no like enzymes leftover, no resources leftover to cope with the estrogen load. So it just remains in the system and remains in play. You know, this can lead us into things like, oh, right, when people have endometriosis or when they have fibrous cystic breast tissue or other things that can result from this type of hormonal imbalance, oftentimes those conditions are really sensitive to caffeine intake. You know, we’ve had a number of clients come through with endometriosis and see really big improvements by eliminating some food allergens and reducing the amount of sugar in their diet and cutting out a bunch of inflammatory foods. But a lot of them came back and were also like, yeah, I just had to give up caffeine. And I went a few months and then I had a little cup and I like felt the endometrial tissue in the wrong place starts to wake up and get irritated again. so, and I mean in general, a uterine tissue itself is pretty sensitive to caffeine, so, you know, if people have like, menstrual, a discomfort or whatever else going on and this is something to take a look at.

Caffeine & the Liver

Ryn (00:38:01):
okay. So all of that’s in play, and you know, with the enzymes there the CYP1A2 and all of that, some of that has genetic factors that determine it. and there are certain people who are considered to be like slow metabolizers of caffeine. I say certain people, but last I saw it was actually something like 40 or 50 percent of the population. So some people like one out of two a, it’s like a slow metabolizers. So they’re going to be on the high end of any of those halflife ranges. you know, but there’s other things that can slow down or cause greater sensitivity to caffeine, right? Like sluggish liver function in general, impaired detoxification processes in general can make you more sensitive to caffeine. How would you know this was the case? Well, if you were also highly sensitive to, intakes of dietary fat, like that gave you a rumbling gut or maybe there was a little oil slick in the potty after you were done. Like, you’re not digesting your fat very well.

Ryn (00:39:07):
that’s an indicator that your liver is kind of having a rough time. If you get a surprisingly intoxicated on what you thought were relatively small amounts of alcohol and it stays with you for a long time or you get hangovers when you don’t think that was warranted, in the decree of celebrating you were doing. Those are indicators that liver function is slow or impaired. if there’s these hormone imbalances going on, you’ve got elevated levels of your estrogen or your histamine or cortisol or whatever else. So those are all things that are going to say, all right, something is interfering with your body’s capacity to cope with its normal trash, right? Just, it’s normal metabolic wastes stuff. and so for that, you know, we’d say, let’s give you the materials you need to run those processes. Things like magnesium and b vitamins and zinc and enough protein in your diet and things like that.

Ryn (00:40:01):
Plus we can give like a little herbal stimulus. They’re a little dandelion root, little blessed thistle, maybe some milk thistle to calm down any fire that’s in place there, right? So those are all ways we could approach that. And again, we’re, I know we got off into liver and detox pathways and stuff that we’re looking at, the reasons why caffeine is going to influence one person’s body more intensely than another in some of the things that are gonna play into that. So another thing we’re going to want to do here to assess like your degree of susceptibility to caffeine interfering with your sleep is to observe your daytime behavior and your daytime symptoms, particularly after you’ve had a large amount of caffeine. So a way back in 18,98 in the book that a king’s American dispensatory, there’s a description of a syndrome called caffeineism. I got into this by Paul Bergner, one of our teachers and mentors and herbal heroes. but so he’s written about this. I’ll link you to one of his articles.

Katja (00:41:11):
Wait, did you just say an 1898?

Ryn (00:41:13):
Yeah.

Katja (00:41:14):
So that also is the date of the opening of the very first health food store in the United States. It was in New York City and their motto was no white flour, no white sugar.

Ryn (00:41:25):
Yeah.

Katja (00:41:25):
And I think it’s pretty funny, but like 18,98, it was a big year for recognizing that too much caffeine is a and too much sugar is a problem and too much refined carbohydrates is a problem and now it’s 2018.

Ryn (00:41:38):
2018 is a pretty good year for recognizing that. Yeah, 2098 is probably going to have another one. Yeah.

Katja (00:41:46):
Sorry to totally interrupt you there, but it was just like, hold on a second. You just said 1898.

Ryn (00:41:53):
so you know if you look at this, they’re describing like a symptom picture, right? And it includes things like insomnia, anxiety, headaches, tremors, irritability, heart palpitations, fatigue actually. But it was known at the time that this was subject to individual variation that for some people, a few cups a day might induce these symptoms, but others could drink coffee by the leader and not really have any problem. I find it intriguing that the, like in the modern world, there are some known neurological or psychiatric consequences of excessive caffeine consumption. And those are really similar to this list of problems from, from Caffeineism, right? So anxiety disorders are pretty strongly implicated with high caffeine consumption. you know, the DSM is obviously not a perfect document, but at least the DSM4 included caffeine induced anxiety disorder and it’s in its list of things that can go wrong and in people’s brains and minds.

Ryn (00:42:55):
so this is like a known known issue. Caffeine itself can sometimes cause panic attacks or precipitate them for somebody who’s already susceptible. The more caffeine you drink, some more likely you are to get impatient or even aggressive. and Paul Paul’s cited at least one study where there was a direct correlation between caffeine intake and anxiety levels. And another way to look at this is if you look at the epidemial epidemiological studies around coffee consumption, you find that the more coffee people drink, the less depression they have, but it’s not free. They also tend to have more anxiety. So it’s sort of like.

Katja (00:43:37):
Trade off.

Ryn (00:43:38):
Take your choice. Would you like to be depressed or anxious? No. Ideally there’s a middle way that we can find, but yeah, so, you know. Alright, let’s swing it back around to insomnia and caffeine. Right? So this seems like obviously, yeah, that’s one of the things you should look at and like, come on. People would know if their caffeine intake was causing their insomnia, you know, come on, who could miss that? Right? But the truth is that a lot of people just don’t recognize it as a potential cause. And there’s a lot of reasons for this. One is that, there’s kind of two types of effects that caffeine has. and remember there’s those two different types of adenosine receptors in the brain where one of them is like the direct sleepiness effect. And then the other one is that putting a block on the activity of those stimulating or awakening neurotransmitters. Well, when you drink caffeine, you don’t usually a consume enough to develop tolerance or to, to, to stop experiencing that wakefulness inducing effect, but you can reach a point where you’ve developed tolerance to the sort of euphoric or activating or motivating effects that come from the increase in dopamine and glutamate and other kinds of stimulatory neurotransmitter actions. So what will happen is that, you know, people are drinking what they considered to be normal amounts of coffee, but they’re, like the more obvious direct subjective effects of the caffeine fade away a long time before the actual adenosine blockade in the brain has ended. And so people simply don’t recognize that drinking a cup of coffee at three PM, they could still be subject to its effects at midnight. But that’s actually quite common.

Katja (00:45:45):
And actually, depending on your, depending on your clearance ability, you can have a cup of coffee at 10 or 11 in the morning, which is completely reasonable. And it could still be in your system at nine and 10 at night.

Ryn (00:46:03):
Yeah. Right, right. Yeah. And especially if you drink the, what’s the biggest one now? And there’s some.

Katja (00:46:09):
Oh good heavens I can never keep all the sizes stright.

Ryn (00:46:12):
Anyway, you know, so it’s very easy for you to still have, you know, 100, a 120 milligrams of caffeine floating around in your brain, you know, half a day after you had some. So, okay. So what are we going to do about it? Well, a few things. And most of these have to do with changing some habits, right? So first of all, stop drinking caffeine at an earlier point in the day and see, and all of this is based on the idea that if you’re having insomnia, you’ve tried some of these sleep hygiene things, it’s not quite doing it for you. And we want them investigative caffeine is a factor. What should we do to chase that down?

Ryn (00:46:51):
Okay? So first stop drinking your caffeine. Have an earlier point in the day, right? So if you normally have your last coffee at two because it’s the 2:00 slump, I think that’s trademarked by one of those energy drink companies. I don’t know. But anyway, if you’ve been doing that, then trying to not, maybe take a few drops of Cayenne tincture or some other like stimulating herb that doesn’t have caffeine in it, works through other mechanisms, see if that can sustain you through that slump. Consider a nap a little earlier in the day. I think that’s a really great way to resolve that issue. But that’s the first thing to try. You can also try choosing different caffeine sources because like I said before, with coffee in particular, the effects of the caffeine, they come on more strongly and they stay with you for a longer period of time in comparison to if you drink your caffeine in the form of green tea or black tea, Yerba Mate or other plants that contain it.

Ryn (00:47:53):
and a lot of this has to do with, what are the other constituents, the other chemicals that are in these herbs, you know, so in like the biggest difference I find between coffee versus tea. So like coffee, it has these bitter diterpene like hahweol and cafestol and they again, like cause the caffeine to enter the bloodstream more rapidly but to stick around in it for a longer period of time. Whereas in green tea, you first of all don’t have those present, but you also have a L-theanine or theanine kicking around in there too. And that has more of a focusing in a centering effect on consciousness and on your mindset. And so the effects of the caffeine is kind like, smoothed over or rounded off by these other elements that are present in the tea plant.

Ryn (00:48:48):
So it may be that if drinking coffee at 2:00 is keeping you up at 10 or 11, maybe drinking green tea instead could get you through that rough spot in your day, but it could not still be having a detrimental effect on sleep in the evening. All right. what else? We can also support liver and kidney function. These detox or clearance functions in the body. like I said, you know, feeding those nutrients, making sure we’re getting enough potassium and magnesium and b vitamins and protein and everything else to make sure that these systems can function normally. So we’ll do that. and then another one that I think is really important is to actually burn off the energy that the caffeine has liberated in your system. You got to do something with that. and you know, this is really acute because a lot of people feel some fatigue in the middle of their day because their body has been mostly still and they’ve been doing all of the work in their brain and in their fingertips.

Ryn (00:49:54):
So these are like, these are like your desk jobs, right? You’re there, you’re typing away, you’re answering emails, you’re doing thing, it takes a lot of energy, it takes a lot of focus, but we also have this habit of getting glued to the chair and staying there for hours at a stretch.

Katja (00:50:09):
And even just habit, but expectation by your boss, but you’ll do that.

Ryn (00:50:13):
Yeah. Yeah. and you know, you’re not moving blood around the body. You’re not making it easy for fuel or resources to get from one place to another in the system. So you’re setting it up for your body to feel, you know, tired and overworked and like things just aren’t really moving very well. And then you’re using your caffeine to push through that fatigue and even that, even that boredom. and so, you know, when you consume caffeine, it’s actually best to go out and do something with that energy.

How Caffeine can Help

Ryn (00:50:49):
so, okay, another factor here that I would urge people to consider is a ways to avoid developing tolerance to the effects of caffeine. You know, especially as a longterm strategy and a, if you’re interested in some of these more like enjoyable and delightful effects of caffeine, like this euphoria, this feeling of motivation, of strong improvement in your focus in order to maintain those, you really have to keep your consumption of caffeine below, like at or below, like twice a week, some people three times a week, but most of us twice a week is kind of the frequency, because more often than that, you become tolerant and that robs you of the augmentation of dopamine and adrenaline and these like stimulating a signals in the mind, but you still have, again, you still have that anti sleep effect going on.

Ryn (00:51:53):
So, the trick about caffeine tolerance is that it’s insurmountable, like you reach a certain point where you can drink all the caffeine in the building and you’re not going to get any more stimulated from it. You’re not going to get any more. I’m a euphoric or motivated or anything after that point. And again, this, these, like two phases here, it goes back to those adenosine receptors, when caffeine blocks to a one receptor a, that means that you get increased alertness when it blocks the, a two, a receptor, then it increases dopamine levels and so you get that stimulating your mood enhancing effects, but, that a one sensory receptor there, it doesn’t get desensitized. And so you always have that wakefulness maintaining quality. whereas the other one, it does get desensitized and so you don’t get that true feeling of stimulation and zoom. It’s Kinda hard to explain. But like for me, I keep my consumption of caffeine to twice a week or less.

Katja (00:52:57):
And usually it’s not coffee for you.

Ryn (00:53:01):
Yeah. Right. And then anytime that I do have a caffeine, it’s intentional. It’s purposeful. And anytime I have coffee especially. So, and I tell you, you guys, it feels great. You know, I had some coffee earlier today and we’ve got a ton done and my mood was really different than its normal baseline. And I don’t know just.

Katja (00:53:22):
We did, we got a lot done and we had fun doing it.

Ryn (00:53:26):
So that’s delightful. I really enjoy that feeling, but I’m very conscious of the fact that if I want to maintain that relationship with this strong and potent herbs, then I need to be intentional about how often I call on this ally and you know, coffee like tobacco, like cannabis, like lots of plants that have a lot to teach us and have a lot of power. they’ve also become commodified. And the consequences of that have been that, you know, our, our work with them has become our use of them. And for a lot of people are abuse them.

Katja (00:54:06):
It’s exploitation of these plants and the power that they have.

Ryn (00:54:11):
Yeah. So, you know, the problem is that like if you reached that point where you know, you’ve desensitize the, a 2 a receptor and all that, whatever, then what happens then is now you’re the person who is dependent on your coffee or on your, on your caffeine source, right? Your dopamine production actually starts to get downregulated from its baseline. And now you need caffeine just to maintain normal levels and so when you feel like even people who are caffeine addicted, they still feel something when they drink it, but at that point it’s really just their, their dopamine levels inching back up closer to a baseline state.

Katja (00:54:55):
Right because initially that’s another function of caffeine is that it increases your ability to receptive dopamine or to produce it.

Ryn (00:55:06):
Yeah, right. Yeah. Because again know when adenosine binds to its a 2 a receptor then that downregulates dopamine activity. So when you get caffeine in there than it than it does the reverse. It upregulates it, but too much caffeine over a long period of time and now just your base level of dopamine goes down and.

Katja (00:55:25):
We’ll get resistant to the.

Ryn (00:55:27):
and now you feel like you need it to even get moving in the morning. So it’s not a great place to be at. so yeah. So my overall take on caffeine is that its is best thought of a as something you call on when you have a need. So I think if caffeine is a workout enabler, I really do like to, like intentionally plan a morning and I’ll wake up and I’ll drink some coffee and then that’s my intense workout for the week.

Ryn (00:55:59):
That’s where I’m really going to rock it. because it works. I mean, of all of the things that Bro Science has looked at for improving your workout intensity and your, your vo two Max and all kinds of other parameters that influence how much you can push. even subjective things like willpower and stuff like that when they try to measure these caffeine, it does it, it boosts those things and it, and it can just give you a little bit of an extra, you know, jive to, to work through and get one more rep or like sprint a little faster in that last run. and so it’s a great way to hack your workout, right? And say, all right, I’m going to push myself extra hard. This herb is going to help me do that. So when you want something like that or you know, if you need vigilance medicine, I remember like the first advertisement for a coffee in London in like 18, I forget the year, whatever the year was, they included in there that, that this is a very good for in increasing watchfulness. And so it shall be useful when one has occasion occasion to watch. You’re thinking of like the night watchman and you’re thinking of a, well, you know, I’m thinking of times when we were on a long road trip or something and needed to drive through the night to get to the next stop.

Katja (00:57:28):
There’s been a couple of times is that you have really been a long haul hero there just driving straight through the night.

Ryn (00:57:36):
A couple of thousand mile days, you know. But yeah, I mean sometimes you just need to get somewhere. Sometimes you just need to, you’ve got to, you’ve got a what do you call it? You’ve got a big project and you need to pull an all nighter. Like if you need that, it’s great to be caffeine naive because that makes it so much easier. then if you were a caffeine addict. Yeah. All right. So yes, you want it to be effective when you need it. So in the end, what it comes down to is don’t have it every day. And again, all of this is especially important if you have been struggling with insomnia. okay. So I guess I got off into a couple of different tangents aside from just caffeine and sleep there, but, hopefully you can see the rationale for all of that, that, you know, background description and understanding of how this works and how it changes and how that moves along. and you know, I really just encourage anybody who struggles with insomnia or feel like they can’t shut their mind off at the end of the day. I think a little bit about your relationship to the caffeine, herbs and see if any changes in it can be efficacious for you.

Katja (00:58:53):
I’m wicked nerdy and I remember that, that image of the coffee advertisement that you were mentioning. And then like I could see that image really clearly in my mind, so I had to google it real quick and it is a handbill from 1652 advertising, coffee for sale in St Michael’s alley in London. So you can google that and see an image of that if you went to. It’s a really funny advertisement because it’s just a wall of words.

Ryn (00:59:26):
And I love that advertisement actually because somewhere in there. it includes language that comes from the four humors system of medicine, right? Like this is particularly good for folks of a melancholic disposition because it’s drying and stimulating and so on. And I just love that because it’s like, oh, that really was common knowledge. If you could read, you could understand what the humors were, which one you were and whether this was a good match for your body. Like I love that because it’s proof of something we say a lot, which is that these concepts around herbal energetics and you know, hot, cold, moist, dry, and all of that. Those were truly something that people understood and were part of the common understanding of health and medicine and things like that. Not even that long ago. Really?

Katja (01:00:18):
Yeah.

Ryn (01:00:18):
Yeah. Alright. So today’s podcast brought to you buy coffee and,

Katja (01:00:28):
and Comedians,

Ryn (01:00:28):
comedians. Nice.

Katja (01:00:30):
And the Irish, the Irish history podcast. And the Tiffany Aching series. Read to me lovingly by my husband.

Ryn (01:00:39):
Yeah.

Katja (01:00:40):
Yeah.

Ryn (01:00:40):
All right folks. So that’s it for us this week. We’ll be back next time. As always, feel free to like and subscribe and review and to write to us and tell us what you want to hear about next time. Otherwise, who knows what we’ll bring up.

Katja (01:00:56):
have a great week. Go Kill Your Dogma and not your dog. Hug your dog, but get rid of your dogma and we’ll see you next week.

both (01:01:11):
Bye

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