woman drinking coffee at a cafe

Everything You Need To Know About Caffeine

There’s nothing quite like a morning cup of coffee, or tea. Aside from great taste, your caffeinated beverage of choice can often transform a groggy morning into a highly productive one. However, it’s important to understand the science behind caffeine and its effect on the body, to be consumed in the optimal and safest way. So, prepare that drink and let’s get into it. 

How Caffeine Works

Caffeine primarily works by blocking adenosine, the neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation and sleepiness. By blocking adenosine, caffeine indirectly leads to the release of dopamine and norepinephrine, contributing to an increased sense of alertness and energy. Caffeine can also stimulate the release of the ‘fight or flight’ hormone, adrenaline, which prepares the body for physical exertion. 

The Benefits of Caffeine

Improved Cognitive Function: According to a 2016 review published in the journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, doses of approximately 40–300 mg of caffeine can improve cognitive function in rested individuals. It is also thought that caffeine may play a role in memory enhancement, as some studies suggest that caffeine’s ability to block adenosine receptors could improve memory consolidation in tasks involving short term memory. 

Enhanced Physical Performance: Caffeine's stimulatory effects can lead to increased muscle contractions, potentially improving strength and power. This is particularly beneficial for activities requiring short bursts of maximal effort, like weightlifting and sprinting. It's also thought these effects can improve the reaction time and coordination required for sports involving precision and quick responses, like tennis. A study into the effects of caffeine on strength and sprint performance, notes findings that show caffeine intake to have beneficial effects on repetitions to fatigue, subjective feelings of vigour and perceived muscle pain, allowing us to exercise harder and for longer. 

The Optimal Time To Consume Caffeine 

The best time to consume caffeine varies from each individual, however the morning or early afternoon is often considered to be the optimal time, aligning with the body’s circadian rhythm. Neuroscientist, Dr. Andrew Huberman, recommends waiting at least sixty minutes after waking to consume caffeine as this is typically when cortisol levels are at their peak. Cortisol is the hormone that helps to regulate wakefulness, and consuming caffeine when cortisol is already high may reduce the body’s natural cortisol response over time. 

When caffeine is consumed, absorption typically starts within 15–45 minutes, and the peak concentration of caffeine in the blood is usually reached within one to two hours, when you may feel the most alert. According to a research paper published in the National Library of Medicine, the half life of caffeine in healthy individuals is around five hours. However, caffeine’s elimination half life can range from anywhere between 1.5 to 9.5 hours. 

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that 400mg of caffeine taken three or even six hours prior to bedtime causes significant sleep disruption, which when experienced over multiple nights, can negatively affect daytime function. The paper recommends that afternoon caffeine consumption should be restricted to before 17:00 to prevent sleep disruption. 

How Much Caffeine Is Too Much?

According to the FDA, for healthy adults, up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day is considered to be safe. If you are looking to reduce your current intake, here are a few strategies that can help - 

  • Keep a record of your caffeine consumption throughout the week to help make informed decisions on where to cut back
  • Switch to smaller portion sizes per cup of coffee
  • Try low caffeine alternatives like decaf coffee or herbal tea 

As the saying goes, everything in moderation. 

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