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Caffeine and Productivity

Caffeine, the world’s most commonly used drug; be it through coffee, tea or energy drinks. As someone whose coffee consumption can only be described as an aberration; having since stepped into the realm of the workplace, my consumption of coffee hit an all time high. A coffee every hour at work was becoming a regular occurrence. After initial consumption I found I was more alert, focused and motivated. However, a few hours after the last cup, I noticed a gradual decline in those areas of cognitive function in addition to feeling ‘jittery’ and overly tired. Excessive consumption has been increasingly prominent in society today and is deeply instilled among the culture of work, where 54% of caffeine intake is derived from coffee [1].

Generally, caffeine has proven to improve memory and cognitive function. Regular coffee drinking may well in fact improve focus, alertness and productivity. However, as with all stimulant drugs our bodies build up a tolerance and therefore, in order to achieve the same effect, we must consume more. This also means temporary withdrawal symptoms will be introduced once we stop fueling ourselves with caffeine. This can range from headaches to substantial changes in our sleeping patterns. Consuming limited quantities can provide us with the boost we may need but having too much can exacerbate problems such as anxiety. Personally, I found this to be mitigating my performance later in the day when I had tasks to complete outside of work. This meant I was drinking more to keep my productivity levels consistent for a longer duration meaning when it came to when I needed to sleep, I was either still wide awake or slightly anxious. Reduction in your hours of sleep are indicative that caffeine taken six hours before initial sleep can have a huge disruptive influence on the sleep cycle [2] meaning the next day I was more tired and therefore in desire of more caffeine to function throughout my working day.

Moving onto energy drinks, Red Bull being the most popular among a younger demographic. Despite the consensus, coffee tends to have more caffeine in it. The typical 250ml can of Red Bull contains 80mg of caffeine, whilst the typical large cup of coffee can contain between 90-160mg. Red Bull only seems to be more caffeinated due to the culmination of caffeine, taurine and sugar which actively increases our heart rates and blood pressure whilst enhancing the effects of caffeine. Unfortunately, what goes up must come down, ultimately resulting in a much harsher ‘crash’.

So, which one would be the better option for enhancing productivity? An energy drink or coffee? In spite of coffee having a higher dosage of caffeine than energy drinks, energy drinks tend to be consumed more rapidly, whilst coffee is generally sipped, meaning the deliverance of caffeine is much quicker so you are more likely to reach the standard quota of daily caffeine consumption (400mg) from drinking energy drinks than coffee. However, coffee and energy drinks cannot necessarily be viewed in the same perspective as they are two very different beverages.  I believe taking smaller doses, learning and understanding how your body reacts to these beverages is arguably the best method of consumption.

Upon reflection, caffeine in any form has both positive and negative attributes and similarly to most substances, should be used in moderation. It would be useful to take note that a dosage of 500-600 mg of caffeine has the corresponding effects of a relatively low dose of amphetamines [3]. Caffeine intake is not the fundamental method of enhancing productivity; especially due to it being highly addictive. Although caffeine itself makes us more alert- and this alertness is what helps productivity- there are indeed alternative methods to enhance this, such as a good, a consistent sleep schedule, exercise and a healthy diet, all believed to be contributing factors.

A few tips to implement in daily life may prove to be useful:

  1. Do not drink caffeinated drinks right after waking up as this increases tolerance to caffeine because it replaces the natural cortisol-induced boost instead of adding to it.
  2. Theobromine in caffeine is the cause of the major “crash” you usually get after taking caffeine- Drinking water after caffeine consumption helps to lessen this effect.
  3. Lifestyle changes to reduce fatigue such as exercising more, a balanced diet and sticking to the same sleep schedule
  4. The primary reason for people drinking coffee has been found to be due to liking the taste. Therefore, drinking decaf would be an effective alternative to a caffeinated beverage.

[1] Sleep and Caffeine (2013). Retrieved 24 February 2020, from

[2] Wikoff, D., Welsh, B. T., Henderson, R., Brorby, G. P., Britt, J., Myers, E., … & Tenenbein, M. (2017). Systematic review of the potential adverse effects of caffeine consumption in healthy adults, pregnant women, adolescents, and children. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 109, 585-648.

[3] Lane, S. D., Green, C. E., Schmitz, J. M., Rathnayaka, N., Fang, W. B., Ferré, S., & Moeller, F. G. (2014). Comparison of caffeine and d-amphetamine in cocaine-dependent subjects: differential outcomes on subjective and cardiovascular effects, reward learning, and salivary paraxanthine. Journal of addiction research & therapy5(2), 176.