A Cup of Cognition: How Does Coffee Affect the Brain?

words Al Woods

coffee brain

People know coffee by many names – saviour, miracle brew and productivity booster. Whether you like it white, black or as a triple shot, it’s fair to say that coffee is a key part of our day.

What we don’t know is how coffee actually affects the brain and what chemical reactions happen every time we have a sip of our latte. You’d be hard-pressed to find an office that doesn’t take advantage of coffee machine hire in Singapore or wherever you are working, but what about it is so irresistible. Today we will take a look at what happens when we ingest coffee and how these well-timed coffees can actually be serving our overall cognitive function. 

What’s happening in the brain after a coffee?

Chemically speaking, you can compare the chemical structure of caffeine to adenosine which is the chemical that makes us tired. When you pour and enjoy a cup of coffee, that caffeine is binding to the adenosine receptors inside your brain, preventing the tired chemicals from binding with the receptors and telling our bodies that we are sleepy. You can think of caffeine as a chemical that nudges those tried chemical to the side and plugs itself into the receptors to get us perked up instead. Ultimately, the more adenosine there is the more tired you are, which is why coffee is used to fight fatigue and why you feel very awake with many coffees on board even if you have been awake for much longer than you are supposed to be. As you sleep, the adenosine chemicals deplete from your brain which is why you feel rested when you wake up.

Dopamine and adrenaline

Now we need to give caffeine more credit than just keeping us awake, as it also stimulates adrenaline and dopamine. Adrenaline gets your blood pumping, your heart rate up, your airways open and gets you into a state of fight or flight which is where that alertness comes into play. Caffeine also affects your dopamine levels which makes us feel happy, and can actually be compared to illicit drugs. Now if you are wondering if that’s why you feel addicted to caffeine, you are starting to think chemically! We not only crave that awake state but actually the dopamine levels that come with having a coffee. So people are not joking when they say that their day can’t start until they have their coffee, as they might not be in a positive mindset without a coffee onboard.

Consumption considerations

Have you ever noticed that your colleagues only have one coffee a day but seem to have the same amount of energy as you who is about to order your third coffee? Well, this doesn’t happen by accident.  When you drink lots of coffee, your brain will develop more adenosine receptors which means that you need to consume more caffeine to bind to those receptors, otherwise those tired chemicals will. We train and condition our bodies to need more caffeine to make us more awake, but if we never escalated our intake, then that one cup of coffee would pack the same punch as three would as you would have fewer adenosine receptors to bind to.

This also explains why avid coffee drinkers crash so hard when they are not getting their fix, as they have more adenosine receptors that are not getting caffeine but are having the tired chemical attach to them and significantly bringing you to a state of exhaustion. Ironically, when you get to this state of high coffee consumption and you do not meet that level of caffeine that your brain now requires – you will be more tired than you would have been without ever having a coffee in the first place.

This article might get you thinking differently about what happens when you drink coffee, and what your coffee consumption might actually be doing to your body. Coffee is truly a gift, but get educated on how you perform with and without it and how many cups you want to be consuming each day.

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