Coffee, the world’s favorite legal drug
Aaaah, coffee. The favorite drug of non-crack addicts. It helps you wake up, gets you focused and gives you energy to handle any task at hand. As an added benefit, it tastes great too. Whether it’s espresso, latte, americano, whatever type of bean, it simply helps people get things done.
I’m pretty sure that if the world would suddenly run out of coffee, we’d have a serious economic crisis on our hands.
But like with any mind altering chemical, it’s possible to use too much of it. Because of that, there’s actually a right way and a wrong way to use it. And today, we’re going to explain to you what that means.
This is what caffeine does to your brain and body
To understand how caffeine works, first we have to talk about a chemical called adenosine.
Adenosine is a substance that our body produces during the day, As the day progresses and we are active, levels of adenosine build up in our brain, eventually causing us to feel tired and sleepy. This happens when the adenosine binds to adenosine receptors (which is like a lock, whereas adenosine is the ‘key’).
Now, caffeine happens to be chemically very similar to adenosine. Because of that, it can also bind to the adenosine receptor. However, unlike adenosine, it doesn’t make you feel sleepy.
Although there is some adenosine present in your bloodstream, it will not have any effects on your brain, and you’ll keep feeling wakeful.
The second thing caffeine does is that it increases levels of cortisol and adrenaline in your bloodstream. These make you feel more energetic and alert, and temporarily increase your physical endurance and strength.
Finally, caffeine also increases levels of dopamine. Dopamine is a so-called neurotransmitter, a substance that is used to help your brain cells communicate.
Dopamine in particular is also called the reward molecule, because it is supposed to give you a feeling of reward when you encounter something positive, like eat tasty food or get your monthly paycheck.
Dopamine tells your brain ‘Hey, this is good, you should do it more’, and because of that, it’s also a key substance in the creation of habits (both good ones and bad ones).
Dopamine also increases your ‘drive’ and ‘focus’, and this is how coffee helps you get motivated.
…and after caffeine
All in all, it’s the combination of these three that make caffeine do what it does.
In short, it does the following
- It blocks adenosine, so you feel awake and alert
- It increases levels of adrenaline and cortisol, energizing your body
- It increases dopamine levels, making you feel driven and focused
Some added benefits of drinking coffee
Most people drink coffee for the psychological and stimulant effects. But did you know there’s a whole series of additional health benefits that make drinking coffee totally worth it?
Here are a few scientifically proven benefits of drinking coffee:
- It decreases your risk of getting type-2 diabetes by up to 50 %
- It massively decreases your risk of getting Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease
- It prevents liver damage
- Decreased risk of getting cancer (in particular liver and colorectal cancer)
- Decreased risk of heart disease and stroke
Overall, coffee is also associated with a drastically increased lifespan. Simply put, coffee drinkers live longer.
Where things go wrong
All of these effects are a big plus, and yet, you have to be careful with your caffeine use if you want to get the most out of it.
First of all, it’s been shown that chronic caffeine use increases the amount of adenosine receptors in your brain. Because of this, you’ll need to drink more and more coffee to get the same effect from it.
When you start consuming caffeine for the first time, you only need a small cup of espresso to give you a big energy boost. But after weeks of continued caffeine use, you’ll notice that you need four espressos to get the same effect.
Not only that, you’ll also start from a lower baseline. This means that feeling sleepy and drowsy and tired becomes ‘the new normal you’. Suddenly, you need to drink coffee just to feel normal again (like when you were before you started drinking coffee).
Aside from that, the increase in cortisol and adrenaline from drinking high amounts of caffeine will also keep you awake and mess with your circadian rhythm.
This causes your sleep to suffer, and even if you do manage to fall asleep, your sleep will be less restful. The decrease in sleep quality will cause you to wake up feeling like a zombie…and you’ll probably try to fix that by drinking more coffee, thus creating a vicious cycle of increasing coffee use.
Chronically elevated levels of these stress hormones are also very detrimental to your health.
This is you on poor sleep. Let’s be honest, you’re not getting anything done in this state.
And because you’re overdoing the caffeine, instead of a normal, smooth energy rush, you’ll start to feel jittery and anxious. Your hands start to feel clammy and you can even get heart palpitations.
All of this is bad news, and it’s obviously not very conducive to being productive.
The right way to use coffee for optimal productivity
Now, no need to be afraid. Although chronic caffeine use will mess with your adenosine receptors, this effect wears off when you stop using it for a while. After a few weeks of caffeine abstinence, you ought to be fine again.
You also don’t need to think that you’ll have to quit drinking coffee for the rest of your life. (We aren’t that cruel.)
Instead, you should try to abide by the following rules.
(And although we’re mostly talking about coffee here, the same rules apply to other caffeinated beverages, such as energy drinks or tea)
1. Do a caffeine reset
If you’re a heavy coffee drinker, it’s best that you abstain from drinking coffee (or any other source of caffeine) for a week or three. This will give your brain the opportunity to reset your adenosine receptors.
I know it sounds hard (and it is), and you’ll definitely notice cravings in the beginning, as you’re missing your daily dopamine shot. But after a while, you’ll notice that your baseline energy levels and focus will increase and you’ll sleep better.
Then, once you’ve finished your reset period, you’ll notice that one espresso shot will have the same effect as the four cups you needed before. And because you ingest less caffeine, it will also make you feel less jittery. In short, coffee will make you feel much better than it did before.
2. Drink your caffeine early in the day
Caffeine has a half-life of approximately six hours. This means that after six hours, 50 percent of the caffeine you ingested is still present in your blood.
Because coffee can interfere with your circadian rhythm and your sleep if you drink it past noon, you should preferably drink it early on, so it gets out of your bloodstream by the time you go to bed. That will ensure you’ll get restful, regenerative sleep and you’ll feel awake and energized when you wake up in the morning.
For obvious reasons, also try not to drink too much – the more coffee you drink, the longer it’s going to take to get it all out of your system.
Drink your coffee early in the morning so it’s out of your system by the time you go to bed.
3. Five days on, two days off
If you use caffeine correctly, you won’t ever have to resort to three weeks of abstinence again. Simply take a few days off each week. This will most likely be enough to give your brain a short weekly reset. My suggestion: drink coffee on your working days, when you need it the most, and do a quick reset in the weekend, when you don’t need your mental capacities to be at 110 %.
If your schedule differs a bit from a regular workweek – change accordingly.
On your off days, you could resort to decaf (although this has small amounts of caffeine, it probably won’t do much harm, provided you don’t drink too much of it). Regular tea (both green, black and white) also have caffeine in them, so none of that either. A better alternative would be to drink caffeine-free herbal teas. When in doubt, google it.
So that’s how you do coffee the right way
You can make coffee work for you, or against you. If you follow the three simple rules I outlined above, you’ll get all the positive effects from your coffee without all the nasty side-effects. You’ll get the focus, energy and drive you need to perform your best, without feeling tired, worn out, and jittery.
Whatever you do, I wouldn’t quit coffee completely. The health benefits are totally worth drinking it.
Enjoy your espresso,