Coffeeis one of the most popular drinks in the world. It is primarily enjoyed for its taste and aroma, but also for its well-known positive effects on mental performance. Drinking coffee has been shown to increase a person’s alertness and concentration thereby aiding in better performance and also helping to reduce feeling tired or lethargic.
The main ingredient shown to be responsible for enhancing mental performance is caffeine, which is naturally contained in coffee but also in tea and cocoa.
Various studies have shown that caffeine improves mental performance. (Casas et al. 2004., Fredholm et al. 1999., Smith et al. 2002., Smith et al. 2004) It helps maintain a high level of attention for a longer time and increases the attention span in some individuals.
“Cognitive function” is an umbrella term used to describe a wide variety of different brain processes that help us perceive, evaluate, store, and use information from the world around us. Our brains process these external triggers together with our personal experiences, including memories, and thoughts, which allow us to react to everyday circumstances. (Schmitt et al. 2005)
Caffeine’s role in brain function or “cognitive”:
After drinking a cup of coffee, caffeine is absorbed quickly and efficiently from the digestive system and starts working in the body only 20 minutes after consumption and the effects can last for several hours. (Fredholm et.al. 1999, Nehlig et al. 1992)
The stimulating effects of caffeine have been studied extensively. They are due to caffeine
ability to block adenosine receptors. Adenosine inhibits the release of most of the brain’s excitatory neurotransmitters; and thus ultimately results in decreased arousal and increased sleep.
Caffeine works by blocking adenosine receptors and increasing central nervous system activity, which increases mental alertness. (Nehlig et al. 1992., Fredholm et al. 1999., Davis et al., 2003., Daly et al. 2004; Fisone et al. 2004., Tieges, 2007)
Each of us at some point has experienced the “lifting” effect of a cup of coffee. Scientific studies show that caffeine or caffeinated coffee stimulates brain activity. (Lorist et al. 2003., Lorist et al. 1994) Caffeine-specific effects on alertness were demonstrated for a variety of mental performance activities and tasks, such as reaction time, (Smit et al. 2000) choice of reaction time (Smith et al. 1999) and selective visual search task. (Lorist et al. 1994; Lorist et al. 1996., Ruijter et al. 1999; Ruijter et al. 2000)
Caffeine’s beneficial effect on increasing alertness is exerted in one serving of regular coffee (60-100 mg of caffeine). Higher caffeine intake does not necessarily result in further increased alertness. (Smit et al. 2000., Quinlan et al. 2000)
Caffeine’s impact on increased alertness was especially apparent in individuals with decreased attention levels. A reduction in fatigue and an increase in alertness after consumption of caffeinated coffee has been demonstrated in the context of several everyday situations:-
Maintaining levels of daytime alertness at night (Smith et al. 1993) or even reducing fatigue after sleepless nights (Lorist et al. 1994)
Improve driving performance at night and reduce drowsiness (Sagaspe et al. 2007)
Restoring a normal level of alertness when suffering from a cold (Smith et al. 1997)
Reducing decreased alertness after lunch (Robelin et al. 1998)
Maintaining sustained attention during long work sessions e.g. while studying (Smith et al. 1999)
By increasing alertness and reducing fatigue, the caffeine in a cup of coffee can be beneficial in our daily lives. (Smith 2005)
Decreased reaction time and better information processing :
A decrease in reaction time after consuming caffeine has also been consistently shown by various studies. Reduced reaction time is usually associated with increased selective attention, meaning that the mind is narrowly focused on a task and selects information more quickly, (Smith et al. 1999., Lorist et al. 1994, 1996., Ruijter et al. 2000) indicating an increase performance in selecting relevant information
We all enjoy coffee breaks as a refreshment, but also because they can elevate our mood. Resting and enjoying talking with family, friends or co-workers is an important part of our daily routine. Part of the benefits of rest have been shown to be related to caffeine’s effects on the brain and positive impact on mood. Studies report increased satisfaction, lower anxiety, more self-confidence and higher motivation for tasks after consumption of the equivalent of 1 cup of caffeinated coffee. (Fredholm et al. 1999; Quinlan et al. 2000., Lieberman 2001., Smith et al. 2004., Casas et al. 2004., Van Gelder et al. 2007., Ritchie et al. 2007)
In short, research supports what most people experience every day. A good cup of caffeinated coffee increases mental alertness and helps us perform everyday tasks with more focus and attention and helps reduce fatigue. Therefore, moderate consumption of coffee is a satisfying way to help us cope with the demands that we experience in our daily lives.
The first cup of coffee in the morning is one of the most popular ways to start the day, and the caffeine in that first cup can make you feel more alert and ready to face the challenges of the day ahead. That cup of coffee can also contribute to our daily fluid intake and help us stay hydrated which is important for health and well-being. (Ganio 2007)
We all know what it’s like to return to your desk or other workplace after lunch and suddenly feel sluggish. It’s not just your imagination, you’re experiencing what is commonly called a ‘post lunch dip’, which actually has nothing to do with lunch at all. The body’s “circadian rhythm” (often known as our body clock) has highs and lows throughout the day and night, and one of its lowest is around 2 p.m.; hence the ‘after lunch swim’. A cup or two of coffee isn’t just an excuse to procrastinate! The caffeine in your coffee helps restore alertness, boosts performance and mood, just what we all need to get through the second half of the workday. (Smith et al. 1990., Ruxton 2008)
At some stage in most people’s lives, we are required to take long car journeys which can lead to fatigue. Several studies have shown that the caffeine in a cup or two of coffee and a brief 15-minute nap are the most effective preventative measures for reducing driver fatigue. (Horne et al. 1996., Philip 2006., Sagaspe et al. 2007., Anund et al. 2008) The advice given by road traffic organizations to tired drivers is to pull over, drink a cup or two of coffee or another caffeinated drink and a short nap before continuing your journey feeling refreshed and alert.
Tired of flying:
Jet lag occurs when we disrupt the normal “circadian” rhythms that help us wake up in the morning and sleep at night. Flying across different time zones, whether on a business trip or vacation, breaks these normal “circadian” rhythms, so anything we can do to minimize the impact is worth considering. One of the easiest, and most effective, things we can do is have a cup of coffee when we reach our goal. ‘Caffeine is a widely used stimulant to maintain alertness’ (Waterhouse et al. 2007). The caffeine will increase our alertness and allow us to carry on with the day, and since coffee is an important source of fluid in the diet, it will also help rehydrate us after our journey.
Many people compare the effects of shift work to permanent “jet-lag” but without the vacation benefits that one looks forward to at the end of the vacation! In fact, switching from day to night shift has the same effect on the body as taking a flight across eight time zones. Humans are basically nocturnal animals. A person’s normal body rhythm involves sleeping at night. If this rhythm is neglected, it can have health, safety and efficiency implications. Studies have shown that the caffeine in a cup or two of coffee can combat symptoms experienced by many night shift workers, such as a tendency to be inattentive and slower to make responses. (Boivin et al. 2007., Smith et al. 1993) Military personnel who are frequently required to perform ongoing operations that do not allow regular sleep and rest patterns also find the alertness-boosting benefits of caffeine. It has been shown that caffeine maintains alertness and physical performance during sustained operations that require awake periods throughout the night and limits the opportunity to sleep during the day. (McLellan et al. 2007)
Coffee is one of life’s pleasures – enjoyed by billions of people around the world every day. It is clear that for most healthy adults, coffee enjoyed in moderation (4 to 5 cups a day) helps maintain important body fluid levels and promotes alertness; and keep us going all day long