The first question a doctor asks when you identify yourself as an insomniac is always the same one: Are you a #coffee drinker? How many cups per day?
I always lie.
Just one or two cups, I’ll say. Maybe a third on weekends, I’ll admit. It’s not that I’m embarrassed about my #habit, I tell myself. I’m a well-meaning guy, a guy who needs to cope, if you will. To admit the truth to a well-meaning doctor—that I am an insomniac with a coffee habit—would surely compromise my standing as a good patient, a patient who puts health above all else. And in general, I am a patient who cares about his health, except when it comes to this one, tiny thing. Because when it comes to coffee, I’m willing to cut a few years out of my nineties, provided I can still enjoy a Cup of Joe.
I remember my first cup of coffee. I came to the magical elixir late, not until my sophomore year in college. I arrived at the shop to escape a snowstorm, looking for a warm couch on which to defrost. I was allured by the smell and ordered a mug. At the time I didn’t know about milk and creamer, and what to make of sugar. I drank it black, a bitter taste with aromas of hazelnut and chocolate, instantly warming me.
Twenty years later, I’m a solid four-to five-cup a day aficionado, and never happier. This isn’t a problem, I tell myself. After all, both my parents drank coffee, and they managed to raise four children. It’s not like heroin, or cigarettes; you can wander down any urban street and find fellow coffee lovers lining up for a fix. And just because I’ve named my coffeemaker (Rex) and clean and polish it daily—that doesn’t suggest I have a problem.
As a bona fide insomniac, I spend my most sleepless nights—those in which I lie awake waiting for the clock to present a reasonable hour to get up and put an end to my suffering—dreaming about the morning’s first cup. When the sun is about to come up and I lay in a building where everyone else slumbers, I think of coffee. I think of the drink, but sometimes, I think bigger. I think of coffee beans and coffee cake and smoked brisket marinated in coffee grounds.
I love the sound the coffee maker when it turns on. I love the aroma of the liquid as it comes to life. I love the accessories—the milk and spoon and warm mug as I dive into a book or turn on my computer. In a city of eight million, the only time I’m truly alone is huddled over the day’s first cup, my mind sharp as I indulge in the enchanting brew.
But I don’t only consume coffee in private. Between lunch and coffee, I prefer to meet people for coffee. If I take a walk, I like to carry a cup of Joe. If I encounter a problem for which I cannot find a solution, a cup of coffee and a quiet room generally do the trick. My wife talks about one day wanting to visit the wineries of Napa Valley; I’m looking forward to the coffee plantations in Brazil.
The few times I have engaged in #sleep studies, doctors have insisted that I spend six weeks caffeine free. I’ve gone as much as a month without coffee, and when I saw no noticeable improvement in my sleep, I fell off the wagon. Or rather, leapt off the wagon, jumping and cheering, high-fiving baristas and preparing to shove my mouth beneath the nozzle.
I don’t believe that coffee is the cause of my insomnia. And yet, while sleep is something I struggle with, if I’m being honest, I have to admit the truth: between coffee and sleep, I’ll take a large.