The Effects of Caffeine on Your Brain

You may find it difficult to start your day without a cup of coffee. Does that shot of caffeine give you the boost you need to get going? If so, you've probably wondered at some point whether caffeine is bad for you. However, it seems that caffeine may have many positive health benefits.
The Effects of Caffeine on Your Brain

Last update: 12 March, 2021

Some people just can’t start their day without a cup of coffee. In fact, sometimes, smelling it makes you feel more alert. Of course, not just the smell causes pleasure but the taste as well. What exactly are the effects of caffeine on your brain?  Furthermore, why are some people more sensitive to caffeine than others?

At a chemical level, caffeine blocks adenosine. That’s a substance that makes you feel tired. Hence, when you drink coffee, it wakes you up. However, the caffeine in coffee and lightly modified tea and cocoa not only wakes you up. In fact, it also improves your mood.

Caffeine is considered a drug. You can become addicted to it. At the neurobiological level, it changes your state of consciousness. Furthermore, it can alter certain thoughts and actions. When you drink it in moderation, it doesn’t pose any serious health risks.

A cup of coffee.

Reasons for drinking caffeine

Although most people drink coffee for pure pleasure, others do so for different reasons. Some of them are:

  • To increase and extend levels of alertness. For example, at work or when studying.
  • To boost concentration.
  • Mood enhancement. Caffeine has slight anti-depressive properties.
  • To increase body strength. Caffeine can help develop muscle strength.
  • In diets. Used due to its satiating properties.
  • As a diuretic or inducer of intestinal activity. That’s due to its influence on the autonomous nervous system.
  • As a hypertensive. It can elevate blood pressure.
  • In the beauty and cosmetics industry. They make use of caffeine’s decongestant properties.
  • To relieve pain. Caffeine can act as a very gentle pain reliever.

You can use caffeine safely in small doses. However, if you’re going to use it for any medical reason, it’s best to consult a doctor first.

How does caffeine affect your brain?

Caffeine is a stimulant and has different effects on your brain. It affects your cognitive processing abilities. However, it also affects you psychologically.

Caffeine blocks the adenosine receptors. It’s also connected to other neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine. These neurotransmitters are generally involved in cognition and emotions.

The effects of caffeine on cognition and mental performance

Caffeine improves certain cognitive abilities:

  • Response times.
  • Degree of alertness and wakefulness.
  • The overall quality of mental information processing.
  • Monitoring of tasks and detection of errors.

However, it isn’t a good idea to use caffeine to improve your mental performance. In fact, no studies suggest that it makes any significant difference. Furthermore, once you reach a certain limit of caffeine intake, your cognitive abilities won’t improve any further. Add to that the anxiety you might suffer, coupled with the withdrawal symptoms if you exceed a certain amount.

On the other hand, caffeine can also produce a placebo effect. For instance, say a coffee drinker expects to see some increase in their performance but it doesn’t happen. They’ll then make an extra effort to achieve that improved performance. Therefore, they’ll end up with the performance they wanted in the first place.

Hands around a cup of coffee.

The effects of caffeine on your mood

As we mentioned above, caffeine makes you more alert. In fact, it’s that feeling of alertness that a lot of people like. Indeed, some people claim that, under the influence of caffeine, they feel a better sense of accomplishment in any tasks they have to carry out.

However, just as with other stimulating substances, caffeine tends to produce the secondary effect of anxiety. In fact, this effect could counteract any improvement in mood caused by the consumption of caffeine.

Generally, it seems that caffeine’s effects are directly linked to expectations. In other words, it affects your mood more or less in the way you actually expect it to.

For some clinical and research professionals, the greatest positive effect that caffeine has on you isn’t in counteracting tiredness. Instead, what they see as most advantageous is the fact that, if you haven’t had any caffeine for a while, taking some relieves any possible withdrawal symptoms you might have.

However, this opinion hasn’t been scientifically validated. Furthermore, experience indicates that caffeine improves your mood.

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  • Sánchez Maroto, M. (2015). El café, la cafeína y su relación con la salud y ciertas patologías (Trabajo fin de grado). Universidad de Valladolid, Valladolid, España.
  • Alan Weinberg, B. & Bealer, B. K. (2012). El mundo de la cafeína. La ciencia y la cultura en torno a la droga más popular del mundo. México: Fondo de Cultura Económica de México.