7852999762_46c8274f69_zDo you stumble out of bed in the morning and sleep walk through the motions groggily until you get a steaming cup of coffee?  After a few sips, your eyes spring open and you perk up and are ready for the day now closely resembling the Energizer Bunny. Bing! Hello! Ever wonder why the caffeine in coffee does this?

Your brain perceives the caffeine as similar to the neurotransmitter adenosine.  Adenosine slows the brain down and lulls it into a state of drowsiness. As you sip your java, the caffeine binds to your adenosine receptors so they can no longer take in the neurochemical.  Without it, your nerve cells speed up instead of slowing down and prevent you from feeling tired at least for a while (usually about two to three hours.)  Caffeine has also been shown to increase the production of adrenaline and dopamine making you feel more alert and happier temporarily.

According to Jeff Brown and Mark Fenske in their book The Winner’s Brain: 8 Strategies Great Minds Use to Achieve Success, moderate daily caffeine intake does provide emotional and cognitive advantages such as improved mood, better memory, and alertness for most people — in moderation — that’s the catch.

More is definitely not better in this case.  At about 500 mg, caffeine starts to adversely effect your system. You will know you have had to much if you start to feel anxious, over stimulated, dehydrated, have a head ache or start to climb the walls like Spiderman. (OK, I threw that last one in.)

In his book, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life: The Breakthrough Program for Conquering Anxiety, Depression, Obsessiveness, Anger, and Impulsiveness, Daniel G. Amen advises that you eliminate or cut way back on the caffeine.  He warns that caffeine is a powerful vasoconstrictor that reduces the blood supply to the brain.

While it may help in the short run he says, it makes things much worse in the long run. People have to continually use more and more to get the same effect.  This sets up a self induced, vicious cycle just like any addictive drug.

The release of the adrenaline triggered by the caffeine puts your body on go and makes you ready for action, but not necessarily intellectual action. Initially, you may become more alert, but by the second cup your heart rate has increased as well as your irritability.  When the adrenaline wears off, you can feel depressed and tired. Then, you feel like you need more caffeine…and so starts the endless loop.

Amen advises that anyone will feel sharper and more in focus overall without it altogether.  Plus, you will not ever have the killer coffee breath and have to keep a tin of Altoids close by.

Be aware of sneaky other sources of caffeine besides coffee.  For example, a 12 oz Coke Classic has 35 mg of caffeine, a 12 oz Mountain Dew has 54 mg, 20 oz of Lipton Iced Tea has 50 mg, an 8.4 oz Red Bull has 84 mg and a Starbucks Grande coffee has a whopping 330 mg of caffeine.  Check out this website to find the caffeine content in many items. It’s also found in many foods. Read the labels!

I used to drink coffee all day long years ago.  No wonder I was so anxious and jumpy.  Now, I limit my consumption to in the morning mostly.

image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/davharuk/

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  1. Judy M. Hampton Reply

    You’re right – there is nothing quite like the smell of coffee, which I do not drink, either. As much as I love my hot tea, the smell of tea just does not compare to that of coffee. However, coffee is my favorite flavor of ice cream – go figure! Enjoy the smell…or the taste!

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      You know what is even better? The smell of coffee brewing and something yummy baking in the oven at the same time!

  2. Debbie,

    This is an excellent overview of caffeine and the brain. I love all the brain talk! I was addicted to huge amounts of black tea for many years. As innocent as it sounds, I think it had quite a negative impact on my health. I hope articles like yours will educate people so never start the caffeine or stop early before the harmful effects set in.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Thanks for the kind words. Yeah, me too. I am a “neuro-geek,” and get all excited over brain talk. To actually realize the power within these concepts to enable us to take charge of our own lives….I think it is such powerful, exciting stuff! I have had many addictions in the past… cigarettes, caffeine, etc… I am so much healthier and free-er now.

  3. Ah caffeine – the girder of loins and opener of eyes. A large cup was almost required before 7AM dissection lab. I mean, who wants to dissect their own fingers while cutting into the days anatomy lesson? In moderation, it’s a useful drug at times but it IS a drug, just one delivered in a vehicle that usually tastes good and is socially acceptable.

    Maybe you could address the other half of the anti-drowsiness duo – dopamine. An essentil for those with bad MS fatigue or narcolepsy – Provigil (modafanil) helps those afflicted get through the day without the caffeine crash.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      I can see where you would want a cup of coffee before slicing into something or someone…cadavers, I hope…so it did not matter if your hand shook, right? Thank you for pointing out that caffeine is a drug…you said it…and you are a doctor…I insinuated it.

      Will have to do some research on dopamine and anti-drowsiness. May be a blog in there somewhere!

  4. Coffee rocks – but sadly my tolerance for it has decreased over the years. I’ve found that waking myself up with some exercise not only reduces my need for caffeine, first thing in the morning, but it also makes the coffee I do have seem even more potent. Good stuff.

    The wakefulness I experience as a result of first-thing-in-the-morning exercise is actually a higher quality than what coffee offers me. I doubt that I’ll ever get rid of caffeine completely, but being able to cut back so I can enjoy it even more really helps.

    Temperance and moderation in all things, of course.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Good for you! I agree completely. Nothing wakes me up and gets my blood moving like a morning run or bounce on mini-trampoline. Plus the effects last much longer and there is no caffeine crash. Exercise also benefits many other systems physically and is a natural antidepressant. For me, a good thing! It is all about healthy habits and routine, I have found.

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  7. I guess it’s a good thing that I have never been able to get into coffee. I actually tried drinking it for a while, I just don’t like it.

    I think my natural energy levels would be catapulted to super human annoying if I went down that road!

  8. Hi Debbie,

    Thanks for the well description of the effects of caffeine. If I could just stop this need for coffee but I really love coffee in the mornings and mid day. I love your perspectives and your eloquence in how you write. BTW- I love this new design, I have to tell my husband so he can join you in this new website. Take care strong girl, you are awesome! Hugs!

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