Caffeine is the most widely consumed drug in the world. But, most people seem to forget that caffeine is a drug that can have a strong effect on them and never learn to use it properly. This is a primer on caffeine, what it does to you and how to use it to maximize productivity:
Caffeine creates wakefulness and energy. Stimulants like caffeine also act as vasoconstrictors. They tighten your veins and impede blood flow, which raises blood pressure and requires your heart to work harder to pump blood throughout your body. If you compare your blood pressure and pulse with and without caffeine, your blood pressure will be lower and pulse higher without caffeine and the opposite with caffeine.
This is the reason coffee is believed to help with headaches: it slows down blood flow to your brain. This is also why some headache medicines like Anacin contain caffeine.
This poor blood circulation also causes jitteriness, anxiousness, and sluggishness once the stimulating effects wear off. Several cups of coffee in a day can also cause poor blood circulation to the hands and feet and make them feel cold. Caffeine affects people differently, but these effects are universal.
It’s a myth that coffee causes the above symptoms because of dehydration. It’s true that caffeine makes you piss like a race horse (diuretic), and this can dehydrate you. But, a cup of coffee is over 90% water, which compensates for the diuretic effect.
The funny thing is, coffee also stimulates nitric oxide production, which widens your blood vessels (vasodilation). So, the caffeine constricts your blood vessels (vasoconstriction), but the nitric oxide production expands your blood vessels (vasodilation). The net effect of coffee seems to be vasoconstriction for most coffee drinkers.
Now, you should drink plenty of water to compensate for the vasoconstriction affects and improve blood circulation; drinking plenty of water will compensate for the jitters, the anxiety, and the sluggishness.
Coffee and tea are the healthiest sources of caffeine. Both have antioxidants that compensate for the jitteriness, anxiety, and sluggishness of caffeine vasoconstriction. Coffee is also known to help prevent Parkinson’s, help prevent Alzheimer’s, and fight symptoms in people who have Alzheimer’s.
Tea has a lower caffeine content, which means the jitters, anxiety and sluggishness of coffee is minimized with tea. Green tea also contains the amino acid L-theanine, which boosts concentration and helps with sharper, clearer thinking.
Caffeine sensitivity is based on the CYP1A2 gene, which is responsible for producing the caffeine metabolizing enzyme CYP1A2. Individuals have different CYP1A2 genes, which means that they process coffee differently and are affected by it differently.
Some people can easily produce abundant CYP1A2 and metabolize coffee very efficiently; it barely affects them or only affects them for a brief time. These individuals need several consecutive cups of coffee to experience any effects.
Other people don’t produce very much of the enzyme and are unable to metabolize coffee efficiently; it keeps them in a heightened state for several hours and/or takes over 30 minutes to begin affecting them. These individuals experience the effects of coffee more strongly and shouldn’t drink more than a cup a day, or switch to tea.
Most people are in the middle of these 2 extremes. Experimentation is the only way of knowing which side you lean more towards.
Caffeine affects people differently. Person A could say that they can drink over 5 cups of coffee a day without any real affect, and that they feel the same before and after drinking coffee. Person B could say they drink one cup in the morning and they can’t fall asleep that night. They’re both right.
Caffeine has a profound effect on your brain chemical balance. It can cause sleep disruption and even depression if mishandled. Caffeine doesn’t wake you up by stimulating your central nervous system. It wakes you up by suppressing the functionality of the sleep hormone adenosine in your brain.
In sleep preparation, adenosine is released and binds to adenosine receptors in your brain. This lowers your body temperature. It also expands your blood vessels (vasodilation), which means your heart is able to work less hard to pump blood throughout your body. This allows for better oxygen circulation to heal and rejuvenate you while you’re sleeping.
The body tries to compensate for this adenosine suppression by creating more adenosine receptors in your brain (i.e. adenosine has a much stronger affect). This means that you need more caffeine to fight the greater adenosine strength and get the same level of alertness and wakefulness. This is how caffeine tolerance builds up.
This also means that without the caffeine, you’re MORE tired than you naturally would have been without caffeine and you need MORE sleep.
And, the greater adenosine strength also makes your blood vessels expand more, which means your blood circulation increases. This increased blood circulation to your brain causes the headaches of caffeine withdrawal.
Caffeine use can also reduce your motivation and can even cause depression. When you drink caffeine, it suppresses adenosine functionality AND it increases dopamine levels in the brain.
Dopamine is the pleasure chemical. Whenever you do pleasurable or beneficial activities like eating, your brain releases dopamine, which makes you feel good and make you want to continue that activity.
Caffeine either slows the dissipation of dopamine in the brain or increases dopamine production. Either way, caffeine increases the pleasure effect of dopamine, which is the main reason it’s considered an addictive substance.
Your brain compensates by reducing the amount of dopamine receptors. In contrast to the adenosine, the reduced amount of dopamine receptors means that dopamine has a much weaker affect (i.e. you don’t experience as much pleasure or happiness). You need the caffeine to experience normal levels of enjoyment from everyday activities.
This is why caffeine withdrawal causes depression and why some people need to drink coffee in the morning to get the motivation to even start their day.
Caffeine creates a brain chemical imbalance. It makes you MORE tired and need MORE sleep without it. It also makes everyday activities less enjoyable, reduces motivation, and can even cause depression.
Caffeine is also known for suppressing appetite and for stimulating adrenaline production. This is why caffeine is used in some diet pills and pre-workout supplements (supplements that weight lifters take just before training to give them an energy boost).
But, caffeine only aids in these two areas. It’s still no substitute for unhealthy eating habits or ineffective training methods.
On a side note, one of the reasons weight lifters carry around gallon jugs of water is because the caffeine in their pre-workout constricts their blood vessels and impedes blood flow (vasoconstriction). They compensate for this by drinking plenty of water throughout their training session and help with blood circulation.
Caffeine aids in dieting and weight training, but it’s still doesn’t make up for poor eating habits or ineffective training methods.
I’ve come up with the ideal caffeine consumption plan. This plan is made with coffee, or tea, as the caffeine source. You’ll only need 1-2 cups of coffee a day with this plan. I like to add a tablespoon of milk to a cup of coffee and no sugar, but that’s up to you.
I recommend adding no more than a teaspoon, or one packet, of sugar since the sugar rush in addition to the caffeine will make the upcoming energy crash worse.
Caffeine can be a helpful way of increasing productivity and alertness if used properly. You want to maximize the alertness and wakefulness from coffee while minimizing the tolerance build up. The best way to accomplish this is to drink the coffee at the right times during the day.
Your circadian rhythm regulates your bodily functions, including your hormone regulation. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is responsible for putting you into a heightened state. It’s produced periodically throughout the day, such as when you wake up in the morning. To maximize the effects of caffeine and minimize tolerance build up, drink the coffee during the times when your cortisol levels are low.
The first low-cortisol time interval generally occurs 2.5 to 4.5 hours after waking up. If possible, make your coffee time within an hour of the previous day’s. If not, just take your coffee 2.5 to 4.5 hours after waking.
For example, yesterday’s coffee time was 10 am (possible wake up times: 5:30 am to 7:30 am, let’s say 7 am). Today, you woke up at 8 am. 10:30 am to 11 am would be the ideal times to take your daily coffee.
The second low cortisol time interval is much longer and occurs 6.5 to 10 hours after waking.
Caffeine can take up to 12 hours to wear off enough to let you sleep well. With that in mind, I recommend only drinking coffee during the first low cortisol time intervals. The second interval most likely occurs past midday, or the middle of your day if you don’t follow a conventional schedule. It’s going to take too long for the caffeine to dissipate and allow your body to return to a relaxed enough state to sleep.
Lastly, I recommend going at least one day, if not two, a week without coffee. This gives your body a chance to completely clear out all caffeine from your system and prevent a caffeine tolerance build up. I schedule my coffee-free day on the weekend when there’s (usually) nothing urgent going on.
That’s coffee: what it does to you and how to best take advantage of its benefits and minimize its downsides. One last thing: it’s costly and time consuming to get coffee from a coffee shop like Starbucks. Brewing coffee at home or using instant coffee are both better options.
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