Do 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. (http://www.energyfiend.com/the-caffeine-database) It is also found in many foods. Read the labels!
I used to drink coffee all day long years ago. No wonder I was anxious and jumpy. Now, I do not even drink a cup every day. I am finding, though, as the mornings get chillier, I want a hot, steaming mug. Mmmmm….
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