I've always been nocturnal. Even as a baby, I'm told, I never slept well at night. Growing up, my sleep patterns became slowly worse. By the time I was fourteen, I was regularly staying awake all night and catching up on sleep during the day. I spent most of my school-days ridiculously tired or, quite often, absent, sleeping during the day. When the opportunity came to escape this hell, I leapt at it. Rather than continuing my education through the normal route, I took evening classes, which suited my nocturnal ways perfectly. This didn't lead to any useful skills and the time came when I needed employment. The humble convenience store suited my routine perfectly - I could work in the mornings when I was still awake from the previous day, or in the evenings, when I had just woken up. This was how I came to work at One Stop.
Soon I came to realise, as if I had ever doubted it, that One Stop was another hell, so I did the obvious thing for someone with no usable skills and no desire to work. I applied to study at a university. The following report of my idiocy and its effects took place in the final months before I became a student. In my defence, I was very tired, having been awake during the day to open my student bank account. Sleep deprivation had made me irrational.
I turned up for work at the usual time with the usual amount of joy at the hordes of customers demanding my limited attention. My alertness was decreasing rapidly and I had little wish to fall asleep on-camera. Fortunately, I was surrounded by the tools I needed to complete my shift. Behind me, with the rest of the over-the-counter medications were boxes of Pro-Plus, caffeine in pill form. In the soft-drinks chiller were cans of Red Bull, a stimulant drink containing caffeine. I purchased one of each, using the Red Bull to wash down the pills. In the course of one hour, I had swallowed eighteen pills, each containing fifty milligrams for a grand total of 900mg. The can of Red Bull, by itself contained a further 80mg and I'd been drinking coffee earlier in the day. I had over a gram of caffeine in my body - the equivalent of drinking eleven cups of strong coffee all at once.
I had been a fairly heavy caffeine user before. In my average day, I'd consume around 300mg of caffeine. Even today, I drink my coffee double-strength. This was the first time I'd consumed so much in so little time. I wasn't completely ignorant about what I was doing. I knew the LD-50 (the lethal dose for 50% of the population) had been reported as 75mg per kilogram of body-weight. I'm not a small guy; to reach the LD-50 I'd have to consume almost seven times as much as I did that night. Of course, deaths and heart damage have occurred at much lower levels. Consuming a gram of caffeine might not be suicidal, but it's far from smart.
Immediate Effects of Stupidity
How did it feel? At the time I made some notes: "Imagine surfing on waves of energy, huge amounts of power beneath you, but only expressed in your board perched upon the crest of a wave. Imagine your pulse tapping out its own beat, regardless of what you, the mere owner of it, thinks it should be doing. Caffeine takes between one and three quarters of an hour to really kick in. My pulse had hit one hundred beats per minute only ten minutes after ingestion. I was in for a rough night. Large amounts of caffeine, I found, don't really make you any less tired, it just makes you have huge amounts of energy whilst feeling dead to the world."
Four hours of work later, I did a spot of shopping, counted the night's takings and began to lock up, feeling more than a little jittery. I just wanted to go home and crawl into bed, regardless of whether I could sleep. Fate was not kind to me that night. As I opened the door to set the alarm, the area manager bustled in. To be fair, the security check would have been completely painless if I hadn't taken the caffeine. A certain amount of baseless paranoia accompanied my interrogation. Five minutes later, it was all over and the shop was locked up. It's possibly worth noting that if you think my pulse was quite fast before, it got even faster as I walked up the twenty-minute hill to my house.
The next hours of my life may have been a good deal more comfortable if I had been a smoker. Many things affect the length of time a human body takes to process caffeine. The average non-smoker processes half the caffeine in their body in 6 hours. If you're pregnant it takes three times as long. For smokers, the half-life of caffeine averages 3 hours. If I had been a smoker, the caffeine in my system would have been down to one cup of coffee in 9 hours. For me, lacking that particular habit, the same process took a whole day. When restful sleep eluded me, I became quite obsessed with these figures.
More Sleep Deprivation
For the first few hours, I didn't bother to sleep, but by 2AM, sheer exhaustion overwhelmed me and I was determined to give it my best shot. I'd slept with fevers before; why, I thought, should this be any different? I was wrong. Trying to sleep whilst overdosed on caffeine is bizarre. The analogy to a fever is quite apt. I did not dream. You have to be asleep to dream. I was neither fully asleep nor awake, but caught in the moment between the two. While I knew I was in bed, I was at the same time on the floor of some jungle. I was beneath my bed covers, which were also leaves. Beneath me was the mattress; soil and decaying forest floor. A light mist filled the room/jungle.
Delirium isn't a state in which memory works particularly well. Being well acquainted with acute and chronic lack of sleep, I've had a number of these experiences. Sometimes on particularly bad days, for the first few minutes after waking, when people spoke I'd feel a spring balance weigh their words. I perceived my mind as a spring, the process by which I understood language as a literal act of weighing and their words themselves as the weights. In those minutes, this was for me in no way a metaphor. On one occasion, I perceived causality in reverse - 'causes' were caused by their 'effects'. On that day I had to go to work. Instead of people purchasing items by giving money to me, people were giving money to me by purchasing items. It wasn't a perception which readily lends itself to description.
I wasn't considering the effects of delirium and my previous acquaintances with it. I was far too busy trying to pull all the wet leaves off myself. This went on forever, because like logic, my sense of time had run away for the night. Back in consensus reality it lasted a couple of hours. Eventually, somehow, I managed to get to sleep. The next day I was feeling better, but drained. I seem to have suffered no lasting ill effects.
I Learned Nothing
I can honestly say I learnt nothing from the experience. I found out that taking large amounts of a stimulant is dumb, but I knew that before. It's interesting to note, however, that caffeine in large enough doses can have similar, although much less pleasant, effects to various illegal drugs. Similar to many drugs, people occasionally die of overdose, sometimes even intentionally. Although I can find no reliable sources, there's a persistent rumour that caffeine tablets are illegal to buy without a prescription in Norway and that Norwegian youths cross the border into Sweden to stock up on their local equivalents of No-Doze and Pro-Plus.
Overdosing on caffeine, whilst interesting from a detached point of view a year on, was at the time entirely unpleasant. It's a stupid thing to do, especially if you have any heart defects (whether you know about them or not). While you sip your wake-me-up coffee in the morning, consider that the drug you're ingesting can have very different effects at higher doses and that people have died from taking too much.