Cutting back on caffeine increases productivity


Kirin Daniels/The Cougar

Whether one is heading to work or school, using the coffee maker in the kitchen or making a Starbucks run, coffee has become a part of many people’s daily routines.

Fulfilling your caffeine fix is made easy at UH with several coffee places on campus. It’s not an uncommon sight to see long lines at each of the three Starbucks locations early in the morning and even throughout the day.

According to NPR, coffee amounts to approximately 80 percent of the caffeine that people consume, and the average coffee intake for someone in the U.S. is about two cups a day.

“I usually drink a cup of coffee every morning before I head to my student teaching,” said broadcast communication senior Greg Starks. “It’s literally the first thing I do when I wake up.”

Starks is not alone. Although many believe that starting the day with coffee makes one more alert, Forbes reports that the morning is actually not the best time for caffeine intake.

Ph.D. candidate Steven Miller from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda conducted research which revealed how coffee affects one’s circadian clock. The circadian clock is a 24-hour hormonal cycle responsible for the release of the hormone cortisol, which makes us feel alert and awake.

One of the peak cortisol production periods is between 8 and 9 a.m., when people are usually drinking their morning coffee. Drinking coffee during this time leads to added stimulation and reduces the effectiveness of the body’s own cortisol.

Using Miller’s research, blogger Ryoko Iwata created a visual representation to illustrate the best times to take coffee breaks when cortisone levels are low and the caffeine boost can be effective. Iwata said the best times to drink coffee are between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 to 5 p.m., though this can vary from person to person.

Though coffee is part of his daily routine, Starks also said the caffeine may not help his productivity.

“If I have to do something very task-oriented, I won’t drink coffee. I’d rather feel subdued. Every time I study or have a paper to write, I drink a beer,” Starks said.

“I would imagine people who are reliant on coffee are less productive. I feel like people that rely on coffee use it as a crutch. They’re more focused on the coffee than the task.”

While many studies suggest that caffeine improves one’s performance in the short term, these studies usually fail to include participants’ caffeine habits. A study conducted by Johns Hopkins University suggests that the boost in energy one gets from drinking coffee is a result of reversing caffeine withdrawal symptoms.

Caffeine is a drug, and like other drugs, those who drink caffeine frequently are more susceptible to feeling tired without having coffee in their systems. When going through caffeine withdrawal, drinking coffee does not increase alertness or productivity, but simply restores the drinker’s normal state.

It’s possible that the idea that caffeine boosts energy and productivity is more of a perception than reality.

Because caffeine can affect different individuals in different ways, the effects of caffeine can vary. NPR reports that studies indicate low doses of caffeine — between 100 and 200mg — are effective for people who are already tired; however, drinking large amounts of coffee — 600 mg or more — can bring about negative cognitive affects.

Business Insider suggests that coffee can be a healthy part of one’s routine, but only if one chooses to drink it about once a week.

Coffee also keeps those who drink it from having a proper sleep cycle because it takes about 24 hours for coffee to leave the body and any remaining caffeine, even small amounts, can disrupt sleep.

Taking into consideration one’s own coffee habits can help determine how much caffeine one should consume. For avid coffee drinkers, it would be wise to cut back on the caffeine since caffeine withdrawal can be much worse than the positive effects.

Opinion columnist Rama Yousef is a creative writing senior and may be reached at [email protected]

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