Coffee and the mindPrint this page
Many research studies have examined how coffee affects the brain and its functions. The potential effects are mainly related to caffeine, one of the main constituents of coffee. Conclusions of studies on both caffeine and coffee are highlighted below with more detailed information available in the Research Centre of the Coffee & Health website.
Coffee and Mental Performance
The caffeine in coffee acts as a mild stimulant to the central nervous system. Studies have shown that, depending on level of intake, caffeine can help to improve mental performance, especially on alertness, attention and concentration.
- The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that a cause and effect relationship between improved alertness and attention and 75mg caffeine (the amount in a regular cup of coffee) had been established1.
- Caffeine can improve wakefulness in situations of reduced alertness or lack of sleep, for example; night-time driving2,3, working at night4, suffering from a cold5 and during the post-lunch dip6.
- In a sample of people under 40, a study found that caffeine or coffee may be effective in improving performance in those suffering from jet lag or shift work sleep disorder7.
- Some studies have shown that caffeine may enhance memory performance, particularly when tedious, repetitive tasks are involved. However, higher intake may decrease performance, possibly due to over-stimulation8.
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Coffee and Sleep
The stimulant effects of caffeine may affect sleep patterns and evidence suggests there is an association between daily intake of caffeine, sleep quality and day-time sleepiness9. Sensitivity however varies between individuals and adapting caffeine intake during the day may improve sleep patterns. intake late in the day may help improve sleep patterns.
- Effects of caffeine tend to be less pronounced in regular caffeinated coffee drinkers than in occasional/non coffee drinkers. In addition to this, age10,11 and genetics12,13,14 may also play a role.
- Research has shown that abstaining from caffeinated coffee for a whole day may help to improve sleep quality15.
- Reducing caffeine intake late in the day may help improve sleep patterns.
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Caffeine and Dependence
The scientific evidence shows that caffeine does not induce dependence, as also confirmed by WHO. Abrupt cessation of caffeine consumption may however lead to withdrawal symptoms in some regular caffeine consumers but these are generally not severe and of short duration.
- For many people, drinking coffee on a regular basis may become a habit, but habit is not the same as addiction. The World Health Organization has stated that there is no evidence to suggest that caffeine use has comparable physical and social consequences to addiction16.
- Brain mapping technology shows that caffeine is not linked to the brain circuit of dependence17.
- In line with previous research on sudden cessation of caffeine, The American Psychiatric Association has recently defined Caffeine Withdrawal as a syndrome resulting from abrupt cessation or reduction in caffeine, following prolonged daily use18.
- The symptoms of Caffeine Withdrawal (headache, reduced alertness, and drowsiness) can be avoided altogether if caffeine intake is decreased progressively19.
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Coffee and Neurodegenerative Disorders
Recent studies suggest that habitual coffee consumption may help maintain cognitive function in older adults, particularly in women. Research has also investigated the effects of coffee on neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
- Regular coffee drinking throughout life may slow down age-related cognitive decline, especially in women and this protective effect increases with age20,21,22,23.
- The majority of studies in humans suggest that regular coffee consumption over a lifetime reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. One meta-analysis found that coffee intake was linked to a 17-20% lower risk of Alzheimer’s Disease20.
- Research suggests that regular coffee drinkers have a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s Disease than non-coffee drinkers24,25. Risk decreases with increasing caffeine intake26.
The constituents in coffee responsible for these effects on neurological function are still under investigation. Caffeine may play a role but other neuroprotective, antioxidative or anti-inflammatory components of coffee are also candidates. However, for Parkinson’s Disease, research suggests that the potential preventative effect may be due to caffeine27,28.
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