What caffeine ACTUALLY does to your energy levels
Can’t gather the energy to meet those deadlines? Fighting off a crazy hangover on a hectic work day? Running on three hours of sleep from last night? There’s usually one clear solution: caffeine. But does the world’s most commonly consumed psychoactive drug actually give us the energy boost that we think we’re getting? Let’s take a closer look.
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that’s often found in coffee beans, tea leaves, cocoa beans, and many other plants. We usually consume it in the form of coffee, tea, soft drinks and chocolate, amongst other variations. But while this is often our go-to solution for a quick pick-me-up, it may not be as effective as we think it is. In fact, here are some ways caffeine may be doing more harm than good to your energy levels:
It makes you less sleepy, not more awake
Despite the popular belief that caffeine makes us feel more awake, the truth is that it doesn’t actually do this but rather takes the opposite route and makes our body think that it’s not tired. The molecules of caffeine are similarly shaped to that of a neurochemical called adenosine, which is responsible for making you feel tired. When caffeine enters your body, it blocks the neuroreceptors of adenosine, meaning your body stops receiving the messages that it needs rest. In other words, caffeine doesn’t stop your body from being very tired, it just stops your brain from receiving the memo.
It provides a quick boost, then a quick drop
Although caffeine might make you feel like you’re more awake, the effect lasts only between 3-7 hours. After that, you may feel a comedown from the boost which, in comparison, can make you feel even less energized than your normal state, which can be counterproductive.
At first, it seems like the easy solution is to drink even more caffeine to prevent the onset of this comedown. However, this only leads to an even bigger offset from your original state and makes your body require more and more caffeine in its system to function normally.
It helps mental energy, but not physical
Having energy in your brain and your body are two very different things. While under the effects of caffeine, your mind will feel completely awake and alert to do mental tasks, misleading you into thinking that your whole body is more energized than it really is.
However, caffeine doesn’t contain any nutrients or calories that can provide energy your muscles need to contract. This means that while your mind is completely alert, your body is likely having to work extra hard to keep up with it. In truth, what the body needs for a real energy boost is food, particularly those rich in proteins and carbohydrates.
It works only for specific activities
Research has shown that when taken in small doses, caffeine can be very effective in enhancing motor and cognitive skills, boosting short-term memory, and increasing accuracy in reactions. Because of this, caffeine can help you perform certain tasks very well, such as memorizing lists or doing straightforward data entry.
But when it comes to tasks requiring abstract or creative thinking, research has shown that caffeine intake does not help increase output or quality. In other words, while you might get the energy boost you need, it might not be ideal for the kind of task you’re working on.
It might make you more tired tomorrow
The irony in consuming lots of caffeine is that you might end up feeling too awake and too energized if you don’t gauge your caffeine consumption right. As a result, you might have difficulty when it actually comes time for you to sleep, which can lead you to getting fewer hours or a lower-quality shuteye. This could make you feel even more tired and less productive the next day.
So what helps?
We’re not saying that caffeine is horrible for you. In fact, taking it in moderation can have many health benefits, including reducing the risk of diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s. Just keep in mind that it provides only a short energy kick.
Instead, we recommend incorporating quality sleep, exercise and proper hydration into your day-to-day habits. If you’re looking for a quick energizer, try taking a 20-minute power nap, do a midday workout, listen to upbeat music, or take a brisk, cold shower. Sometimes, even changing your work space — for instance leaving your home and going to work in a coffee shop — can have a huge impact on your productivity levels without having to resort to a single drop of caffeine.
For more health- and fitness-related resources, including how to optimize your energy levels, balance your blood sugar, manage your weight, and much more, try out the various services offered at Bodyscene.