Confession: I’ve got a stash of empty 5-Hour Energy bottles behind my desk and several two-packs tucked in my cupboard. I grabbed a bottle at the grocery store the other day, and when I reached for my wallet, I found three partially drained ones already in my purse. Someone saw an energy drink in my editor’s office and knew right away it was mine. “I thought Lonnae had given those up,” he said.
I tried, but I can’t. I realize I’ve got the monkey on my back. It’s not primarily an addiction to the drink so much as a reaction to the modern social and workplace mandate that we all do more, more, more, right to the edge of our physical capability, then past it. That we get everything that we’re supposed to get done, done! Now! And although nobody who cares about me wants me to be an energy-drink addict, little in the culture supports me being anything else. Not everyone was born with the same levels of heartiness.
A 2010 New York Times Magazine profile of Politico’s Mike Allen repeatedly referenced how little sleep the journalism standout needed; how, in a modern media environment, you can’t just be good at your hard skills — reading, writing, thinking. You’ve got to be metabollically superior.
The 2013 book “Dangerously Sleepy: Overworked Americans and the Cult of Manly Wakefulness” details the history and public health costs of working more and sleeping less.
For those of us whose bodies aren’t tech-ready — who don’t juggle well, who need at least seven hours of sleep, who lose focus by midafternoon, or yell at our children when we’re overtired — an entire growing industry promises to give us that edge.
The market for drinks such as Red Bull, Monster Energy, 5-Hour Energy and Rockstar Energy grew 60 percent between 2008 and 2012, according to a study by the consumer-research firm Packaged Facts, and is expected to be a $21 billion industry by 2017. This, despite concerns about some of the products’ safety.
On Facebook, friends talk about relying on coffee, Dr Peppers, B-12 shots. “I need the boost because I am not a morning person but I work at a job that starts early,” one person posted. “I needed one today — I worked 12 hours,” another said.
Someone else said he used to be hooked on the drinks but now gets the shots: “I was tired of waking up feeling tired, not wanting to get up in the mornings.”
“I’m drinking one right now,” a fellow 5-Hour addict wrote.
Washington novelist Dolen Perkins-Valdez, a mother of two who teaches creative writing, says she was addicted to an energy drink until she got pregnant with her daughter. Ten months later, she still struggles with energy and focus.
“I was up until 4 this morning,” she says. “There are certain things you can’t sacrifice on quality. It’s okay if you burn dinner or didn’t get to your homework. It’s not okay to not deliver on your deadlines for your professional life.”
Perkins-Valdez, who is a coffee drinker, has also switched up her diet to include more salads and leafy vegetables. She eats more often so she won’t have energy crashes. “We’re all trying to maximize our productivity with the little bit of time we have,” she says. “We’re all trying to cope with modern life.”
I was sick last week, and for a day and a half, I could barely lift my head. But my to-do list didn’t care. At some point, I scrounged through my purse until an energy drink came tumbling out. I took a swig and felt the pick-me-up kick in. I cleaned the kitchen and responded to e-mails. By the time I showered, I was flying high. Just one more story to write, I told myself. Then, I promise, I’ll quit tomorrow.
For more by O’Neal, visit wapo.st/lonnae.