We know now that caffeine is the most widely used drug in the entire world. However, despite this, it is also one of the most widely misunderstood substances among its users. The truth is, it is much, much more than a simple stimulant, and you can make it work for your own individual needs!
While there is a lot you can read on the subject, most of that information is either unreadable scientific treatise or personal anecdotes. Luckily for us, there is one very readable book of knowledge on the subject that at the same time derives its information from good science and remains an enjoyable read. Here are some things that we’ve learned from Buzz: The Science and Lore of Alcohol and Caffeine, by Stephen Braun.
1. Caffeine Will Make You Speedier, But Not More Skillful.
While some of the great artists and minds throughout time have loved coffee, their work did not necessarily benefit from their consumption of the drug.
Studies of caffeine do show that it can enhance productivity, but mainly that is limited to work that is straightforward and does not require much abstract thought. Science has also shown that caffeine can help retention of ‘declarative memory,’ which is the same memory that allows students to remember exam questions.
There was, however, one study cited in the book that showed a boost only when accuracy or quality were sacrificed for speed. Moreover, this effect was seen in morning tests only, indicating that other variables were involved, such as dependency on caffeine or that the straightforward work was done mainly in the morning when coffee drinking is typically done.
The truth is, science has not yet uncovered all the ways that caffeine affects the brain. In general, though, it will effect the speed of your brain rather than the power of it.
2. Caffeine Does Not Provide Stimulation.
What provides the ‘wired’ effect after drinking coffee is actually your body’s own naturally produced stimulants.
Let’s take a step back. When you are awake, your brain is firing neurons. A byproduct of this is adenosine.
When you have produced a certain amount of this molecule, your body will feel tired and want rest or sleep. The thing about caffeine is that it interacts with receptors that normally interact with adenosine. In large amounts (a typical cup of coffee is plenty) caffeine basically acts as an imitator of adenosine, and it is accepted by your body as such.
Now that those receptors are blocked, the brain’s own natural stimulants, dopamine and glutamate, can work without worrying about being bound to receptors. In the book, Braun likens this to ”putting a block of wood under one of the brain’s primary brake pedals.”
So, caffeine is not ‘pressing the gas.’ It is ‘blocking the brake.’ This is a subtle distinction, but an important one. As Braun puts it: “You can get wired only to the extent that your natural excitatory neurotransmitters support it.” This means that effects of caffeine vary from individual to individual, depending on a number of factors such as tolerance and genetics.
3. A Note On Caffeine Tolerance And Effectiveness.
The well noted ‘caffeine headache’ is simply a withdrawal symptom experienced by those who have come to rely on it as an everyday drug. The effectiveness of it, however, is different from person to person, as we noted above.
On average, caffeine wears off in 10-12 hours. A woman on birth control requires twice that long. Smokers take about half as long. Then again, the longer one uses caffeine, the more the body builds a tolerance to it.
How this happens is a very murky it of science. Some studies liken it to addiction from other drugs, so when more caffeine is imbibed, more adenosine receptors are created to compensate.
However, other studies have shown a decrease in norepinephrine receptors among coffee addicts. This all indicates that caffeine changes the way the brain regulates excitement. We don’t know for sure how, yet.
At any rate, withdrawal effects occur between 12-24 hours after your last dose. Nearly all will feel the universal headache, but other symptoms are fatigue, depression, irritability, and even nausea and vomiting. It could take ten days or more to get over these.
4. We Know You Don’t Want To Quit, But If You’re Feeling Crazy…
All the boost that coffee would give you is basically nil if you are addicted, that is, imbibing coffee at least every day. So if you are interested in doing the unthinkable and re-establishing the boosting benefits of the drug, here is one way to stop:
First of all, measure your intake of caffeine. You’ll want to start reading nutritional labels, because it comes up in a lot of places you wouldn’t expect. However, if your caffeine addiction extends to chocolate, for example, you are really in for a ride. Here’s a good rundown of amounts of caffeine in certain foods.
Once you know how much your caffeine intake is, make a plan to start cutting back. It will be a several-week process to avoid the nastiest effects of withdrawal. Stick to the plan, you’ll get there!
It’s prudent to note here that when you are kicking caffeine, or any other, dependency, it is good practice to incorporate exercise, meditation, or other mind-clearing practices to help form good habits that will replace the one you are quitting.
After you’ve finally kicked the daily habit, you can select strategic times to really harness that boost. You can do it!
Then again, coffee is delicious, and why would you take one of life’s great pleasures away from yourself?
Whatever your life choice, at least now you are armed with some real knowledge on caffeine!