The answer is simply and wonderfully coffee. There are days that the only thing I am running on is coffee. It doesn’t matter the time of day you find me in, I’m either going to find a cup o’ joe, drinking one or am about to grab one. This is the reason I am so curious about what it does to my brain. Therefore, this week I’m going to dive into what caffeine is, how caffeine/coffee can help the brain and how much is too much.
First things first, what is caffeine? Obviously, caffeine is what is in coffee that keeps people up and going. Caffeine is a substance that is natural in coffee beans, tea leaves, kola nuts (used to make soft drinks) and cacao pods (used to make chocolate). An interesting fact, an 8-ounce cup of coffee has more caffeine than a 12-ounce can of Cola, according to livestrong.com.
Here is how it works. There is a chemical in our brains called Adenosine. Its entire purpose is to make us drowsy when we need sleep! When we drink coffee, cola, tea-containing- caffeine, or an energy drink the caffeine enters our brain and basically shoves Adenosine out of the way and connects to the brain cells to keep us alert. This is possible because Adenosine and caffeine have very similar structures, according to healthfully.com. No need to worry though, obviously the alert feeling wears off and Adenosine takes its rightful place and makes us drowsy once more.
As said above, and as we all know caffeine makes us more alert, but are there other benefits of caffeine? The answer is, of course, yes. There are studies that show the caffeine/coffee improves people’s memory, cognition and attention. Not only that, but it increases dopamine in the brain, resulting in improvement in endurance training! Studies have also suggested, emphasis on suggested, that regular coffee consumption reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and could be preventative of Parkinson’s, according to coffeeandhealth.com.
The downside of caffeine is that it can easily disrupt sleeping cycles, especially if caffeine containing drinks are consumed late in the day or night. It also has side effects such as anxiety and increased heart rate, according to Sylvie Tremblay, a former neuroscientist. So, watching how much is consumed if you want to stay clear of these side effects. Drinking too much can also negatively impact your alertness and concentration.
This leads me to the question; how much is too much? Studies have shown that 200-400 mg of caffeine or four cups of coffee is considered a healthy amount, according to WebMD. If you’re like me, you’re drinking way too much, therefore, I did attempt to cut back.
I started the day with one cup and refrained from another cup until about mid-day. I noticed that I felt more alert, but I when I did begin to feel tired I drank another cup and was back on my feet! There’s a nice happy medium in there, you just have to find what’s best for you. I caution you, dropping coffee/caffeine cold turkey can cause withdrawal, especially if you’re dependent on it. Watch for signs like migraines or drowsiness these are signs of withdrawal.
In the end, there are health benefits to caffeine, but there is importance in finding the sweet spot for you on how much is just enough. It’s quite a useful tool for any college student for early mornings after late nights!