Molecule of CaffeineCaffeine is probably the most popular and commonly used drug in the world. If you get your day started with a morning cup of joe – you probably know why. Caffeine is a stimulant. It provides a boost that improves memory, learning and thinking. Take a few sips and you can feel your motor revving up. If you’ve ever wondered about how caffeine works in the brain to produce that effect – here are the basics.

Caffeine does a brain good

According to Harvard Health Publications caffeine blocks receptors for the chemical adenosine. As adenosine builds in the body you feel sleepy. Without interference from this chemical the brain is better able to circulate other chemicals, like dopamine and glutamate, that boost energy and mental performance. Caffeine works fast, too. In just a few minutes after sipping you will feel more alert and have faster reaction times. What else is great about that cup of coffee? Regular drinkers have been shown to have a reduced risk of age related cognitive decline.  Caffeine also boosts mood and adrenaline giving you the attitude and energy to get things done – what’s a better way to start off a great day?

Caffeine tolerance

Our brains quickly become accustomed to caffeine. You may notice that now it takes two cups instead of one to get your juices flowing in the morning. That’s because the brain adapts quickly as it becomes accustomed to the caffeine. With time you will need more than you did before to produce the same effect.

Caffeine addictionCoffee cup with brain on foam. Refreshing concept.

Caffeine is not an addictive substance in the way that alcohol and drugs can be, but your brain will register its absence. You may have noticed a headache or feelings of drowsiness when you skipped your coffee. These are common symptoms of caffeine withdrawal. You can alleviate this minor discomfort just by drinking coffee. If you want to ride it out instead, just drink plenty of water and give your brain about ten days to adjust.

Some people with caffeine sensitivity may opt for health reasons to reduce or eliminate caffeine. Although individual thresholds vary, too much caffeine can cause feelings of anxiety or panic. In this case the drawbacks definitely outweigh the benefits. That is also true if caffeine keeps you awake at night.  If you experience caffeine related insomnia, but decide not to switch to decaf, cut back 3 to 5 hours before bedtime because it takes that long for the body to metabolize.