Article written by: Kirstin Sharpe


Caffeine is a well-known stimulant but it is rarely recognized as the powerful psychoactive compound that it is. Coffee results in heightened alertness, promotes memory, and improves processing speed, which are all associated with caffeine’s impact on cognitive function, mood, and attention.  Discover how to reap the benefits and get the most out of your cup of Joe.

John Hopkins Medicine and many other reputable institutions report moderate use of caffeine as having a positive effect on short-term and long-term memory. Some studies suggest caffeine plays a role in attention while other studies appoint caffeine as enhancing processing speed only. Last month’s article briefly touched on coffee and its effects on the liver. Coffee can lower the risk of liver cancer and liver disease; up to an exhilarating 50% in those who drank 3 cups of coffee per day.

Decaffeinated coffee offers the same nutritional benefits as caffeinated coffee and is a good option if one is sensitive to the ingestion of caffeine. A typical cup of regular coffee has about 95 mg of caffeine and a decaffeinated cup ranges between 2-3 milligrams.

Those who have difficulty controlling their blood pressure may want to moderate their coffee intake. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a moderate amount of coffee is generally between 3-5 cups a day or an average of 400mg of caffeine.

Timing: Find the Best Time to Start Caffeine Consumption

Cortisol, the hormone we typically associate with stress, has its own circadian rhythm that is affected by sleep patterns and its primary function is to make you alert. In order for you to wake up in the morning, there is a big spike in cortisol that reaches its peak just minutes before waking and typically lasts for about 30-90 minutes.

In terms of the powerful nature of cortisol, if you compare cortisol to caffeine, it would be like comparing cocaine to weak tea.-Dr. Michael Breus

Adding caffeine to your already high stimulation level will actually cause you to plateau sooner, typically resulting as feeling fatigued earlier in the day, loss of concentration, and having another cup of coffee. Consider that you may be elevating your stimulation level too soon… picture this as a rollercoaster ride; drinking caffeine first thing in the morning is like buckling your harness for the denominator, the ride where participants enjoy a smooth ride to the top of the tower and shortly after are shot down at a high speed.

If you were to push back your first cup of coffee for just 60 minutes, what happens then is your cortisol is starting to dip and then the caffeine actually helps boost it again. This could be a more enjoyable ride for those of you who tend to reach for the coffee just minutes after waking.

Timing: Find Your Personal Cut Off Time

It’s common for individuals to think the timing of the last cup of coffee doesn’t have any effect on their ability to fall asleep.   Arguably, what is more important than being able to fall asleep is the quality of sleep you are getting. Caffeine has a half-life of about five hours. In other words, if you were to consume 1 cup of coffee (100mg of caffeine) around 4pm, by 9pm you still have about 50mg of caffeine in your bloodstream. This leaves you under-rested and overly dependent on caffeine the next day. In a study on the effects of caffeine on the human circadian clock, participants got up later too due to caffeine pushing their entire circadian rhythm back. A good rule of thumb is to cut off consumption by 3pm, and no no later than 4pm, if you prefer to sleep by 10-11pm.


The most significant changes in mood from consuming caffeine may be anxiety, small doses decrease anxiety while larger doses [5 cups or more] increase jitteriness and nervousness. Feelings of alertness and energy are brought on by the consumption of coffee because caffeine is chemically similar to thecoffee neuromodulator adenosine. The kicker is caffeine doesn’t actually give you more energy – instead it blocks the effects of drowsiness that adenosine is responsible for accumulating throughout the day. Small amounts of coffee consumption daily can make you feel focused and alert throughout your day but drinking an excessive amount can leave you feeling anxious and will likely cause difficulty sleeping.

Quality of Coffee

Your body gets more energy out of fat than sugar, putting poor-quality sweeteners in coffee adds unwanted chemicals AND calories. There are no nutritional benefits to drinking flavored creamers such as Coffee-Mate. Flavored creamers are generally chemical nightmares and don’t contain any vitamins or antioxidants… making them entirely unhealthy to be drinking every day. Frequent use over time can raise health complications like high cholesterol, heart disease and even stroke due to the partially hydrogenated oils that contain trans-fat. In the United States, a product can read 0 grams trans-fat on the label if there is less than 0.5 grams of trans fat in a serving size. Steer clear of flavored creamers, especially if you see partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredients list.

Drink it black or add grass-fed butter… and add some coconut oil too if you’d like! If you blend coffee, butter and oil, coffee will get frothy and taste like a richer, healthier latte. Check out Dave Asprey’s “Bulletproof Coffee” for more information on this! If you prefer a coffee lightener, choose unsweetened oat milk.  Unflavored oat milk has the highest number of calories and carbohydrates of plant-based milk varieties and typically has more protein and fiber.

Showing up on a list of products that are very high in pesticides, coffee has pesticide concerns; only partial amounts of the pesticides are removed during roasting. Pesticides have been linked to endocrine and neurological disorders, as well as cancer. While agrochemicals are directed at the stems and leaves, independent tests are finding residue on the beans themselves.

Choosing a healthy additive is often less flavorful and choosing organic coffee is typically more expensive… but the health care costs are much greater. Circadian rhythms and higher-level cognitive skills are sensitive to the ingestion of caffeine, but consistent outcome results are limited, making future research on caffeine incredibly valuable to human health. If you notice coffee causes you anxiety, heart palpitations, tremors, or insomnia… gradually decrease the amount of coffee you are drinking or try drinking decaf coffee to see if your body responds differently!

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