Caffeine: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Chances are you have consumed caffeine at some point in your life, for it is not just found in the obvious places such as energy drinks and coffee. Caffeine is also found in things such as chocolate, tea, and a good number of sodas. Even decaf(feinted) coffee still has caffeine! The point is, most people have consumed or actively consume caffeine, so it is important to understand how caffeine affects us.

To put it simply, caffeine stops adenosine, the chemical that tells your brain you are tired. First, it is important to have a grasp of caffeine’s chemical response in our brain. It is important to establish that caffeine is a drug in the way that it affects us. In humans, adenosine is something that can be thought of as a chemical that tells our body that it is tired; it works by binding to adenosine receptors, which then signal to our brain the tiredness you feel after a long day. Caffeine blocks adenosine from working, for caffeine binds to the adenosine receptors in our brains, which, in response, prevents adenosine from binding. This gives you that “energy” boost  you feel after you consume caffeine.

So, what are the benefits? Within 20-30 minutes, caffeine gives you a perceived energy boost. Applied to schoolwork, it can improve productivity, efficiency, and focus for studying or doing an assignment. This can be helpful if you are trying to complete an effective school work session. When used for athletic performance, it can make you work harder and provide extra drive. An efficacious dose for sport performance enhancement has been found to be over 200mg; however, that doesn’t mean less can’t help, especially if you are not experienced with caffeine, or if you have a low caffeine tolerance (discussed below). Last, many people use coffee to help wake up after a bad night’s sleep to help them get ready for the day. 

Caffeine has many benefits, so why isn’t it the miracle drug that everyone uses all of the time? To start, caffeine can impair sleep when taken too late in the day. Caffeine has a half life of six hours; this means that if you drink 200mg of caffeine, six hours later, there is still 100mg of caffeine in your system. This can mess with your sleep cycle, leading to a lesser quality night of sleep. After ten hours, however, caffeine tends to have completely exited your body. If you do consume caffeine, and you do not want it to interfere with your sleep, try to ingest it at least ten hours before bedtime. Loss of sleep is the most common negative side effect; however, another common side effect of caffeine is getting jitters and anxiety, if consumed in excess. And although caffeine is generally safe consumed in moderation, long term use over the daily limit recommendation set by the FDA of 400mg/daily can lead to heart problems such as increased blood pressure, and in extreme cases, heart attacks, which can lead to death. These side effects should make you consider limiting your usage of caffeine, or if you do decide to consume it daily, keep it to a reasonable amount.