Be careful when you drink coffee

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Coffee is the drug that fuels the modern workforce. We all know someone (or many people) who say that they “can’t start the day without a cup of coffee”, some even need two, three or six cups a day to be their cheery selves. However, how would those people be if they didn’t have coffee in their lives? Would they be any worse off or is there actually something to this drug called coffee?

A new study tried to look at this very question. It gave patients a small pill that was equal to the effects of one strong cup of coffee. Patients were either given this caffeine pill or a placebo. The study then tried to analyze changes in the patient’s ability to problem solve, to think creatively, memorize things, and examined their overall mood.

The study found that caffeine had no impact on creativity but did help people focus enough to improve their problem-solving ability. There was no significant impact on memory either but it did improve patient’s moods with many reporting they were less sad after taking the pill.

The study is in line with what previous research has found on the impact of coffee. Coffee is a stimulant and so it makes sense that it would increase your energy and focus levels. Creativity is usually something that is not linked with your energy or focus level and so it is no surprise that there were no changes found. 

Experts we spoke to said that while the results should be taken positively we should also note the impact was measured on one cup of coffee. The majority of people drink far too much coffee. This is because if people see a good result from one cup they perceive they will have an even greater result from multiple cups of coffee. I have never been a big coffee drinker but before my university exams, I would wake up early every morning and have a massive cup of coffee, thinking it would give me the ultimate focus. I remember it made me pee a lot but not much else. 

Experts say there is a point where too much caffeine will start to reduce your focus and have the opposite effect to what you are looking for. They call it the Yerkes-Dodson Law. This law states that a stimulant can increase performance but that the more a stimulant is taken after a certain point it will only serve to diminish performance. In plain English, if you drink the right amount of coffee your focus will increase, drink too much and you will not be able to focus at all as you will be too wired.

This makes sense as every coffee drinker knows that there is a point where they have had too much coffee. I used to have one coworker who would warn the whole office if she ever accidentally had a third cup of coffee in a day. The third cup would kill her productivity and make her talk to all her coworkers about nonsense for the rest of the day. 

The real takeaway from this is to learn where your line is with coffee. If you have an important event or exam coming up don’t radically change how much coffee you are consuming as it may have a negative outcome. If you ever find that coffee is keeping you awake at night or causing you to lose concentration, cut back.

Overall the study showed that coffee can be used to help focus and therefore is positive but that we should be careful not to drink too much coffee or it will result in the opposite.