mind- altering drug, actually consume one every day—caffeine!
Caffeine is so pervasive in our culture and in many other cultures that we often
forget it is actually a drug that affects our brain. Caffeine is present in
coffee, tea, many cola drinks and over the counter medications.
The most common way that most of us ingest caffeine is in the form of coffee.
And some of us drink many cups of coffee in a day.
If you are one of those people who drinks a lot of coffee daily, you probably
wonder what all that coffee is doing to you. Is coffee really bad for you, or
is drinking coffee just a harmless vice? Can it be possible that coffee is
actually good for us?
The research on coffee shows mixed results. Some studies show that drinking
coffee increases the rate of heart attacks, while other studies have shown that
drinking large amounts of coffee decreases the risk of diabetes.
There are nutritional advisers who claim that coffee makes us age faster, wears
out our adrenal glands, and causes all sorts of untold damage to our cells.
Other researchers claim that coffee, especially if it's freshly roasted and
ground, is full of antioxidants, and therefore good for us. Most doctors say
that drinking one or two cups of coffee a day is probably not harmful. And of
course there are others who say we ought to avoid caffeine altogether.
The one thing that most researchers and most coffee drinkers agree on is that
coffee can keep us awake at night and cause insomnia if we drink it late in the
Yet many of us drink coffee precisely because we want to boost up the activity
of our brain cells, especially when we first wake up.
Many of us feel that we cannot really get going in the morning until we have had
our first cup of coffee. We often continue to drink coffee throughout the day
whenever our energy appears to be flagging and our brain seems to need
additional help to think more clearly.
Does caffeine really enhance mental performance, or is that just a myth? Yes,
caffeine does give a temporary boost to brain cells. But the amount required to
improve mental performance is not very high. Even half a cup of coffee will be
enough to give your brain a boost that lasts several hours.
Oddly enough, more caffeine is not necessarily better. In one test done when
high-level executives were given the equivalent of fourteen cups of coffee in a
day, they made their decisions faster, but the decisions were not of very good
Not every person reacts to caffeine in the same way. Some people experience
greater mental clarity, alertness and productivity after a cup of coffee. Other
people become jittery, anxious, or depressed when they drink coffee. Although
caffeine will keep most of us awake if taken at night, it does not have this
effect in everyone.
In some older people, coffee or tea can improve memory and alertness enough to
partly offset the effects of aging.
It is true that caffeine is mildly addicting for most people. Some people can
quit using caffeine with absolutely no withdrawal symptoms, while others will
feel headaches, fatigue, and experience cravings for caffeine for weeks.
Caffeine works by blocking one of the neurotransmitters--adenosine—which
normally tells brain cells to calm down. Brain cells that have been affected by
caffeine will remain excited and on high alert for several hours.
The most noticeable negative effect of caffeine is that it can interfere with
sleep. In most people, drinking coffee, tea or cola in the late afternoon or in
the evening will cause insomnia.
If you are particularly affected by caffeine, you will find that the quantity
and quality of your sleep will be greatly reduced. This can set off a vicious
cycle, where you feel so tired all the next day that you drink a lot more
coffee just to try to feel awake.
If this is happening to you, cut back on the amount of coffee you consume each
day. You may experience fewer withdrawal symptoms if you cut down gradually.
You may wish to substitute green tea for some of your cups of coffee. Green tea
has some caffeine, but not as much as coffee.
Better yet, consider substituting exercise for some of those cups of coffee. If
you can't leave your workplace, at least get up from your chair periodically.
Do a few stretches, walk around a bit, and jump up and down a few times. Take
some deep breaths. A little exercise break can revitalize your brain without
giving you the caffeine jitters.
Remember that your brain won't really benefit from more than one or two cups of
coffee in a day.