I am sure most of you will agree that coffee is a mom’s best friend. I, personally, have never been a big coffee drinker. I am not a fan of its taste. Nonetheless, without coffee mornings, would be a lot less efficient. As parents, sleep is a valuable resource with too many threats: colds and sickness, night terrors, noisy neighbors, thirst, bathroom expeditions; you name it. Kids seem to always have a good excuse to wake up in the middle of the night. Even when you get a full night of amazing sleep, you cannot go wrong with a nice cup of coffee.
Caffeine is always an ally when trying to beat exhaustion due to its ability to fool our brain and make it feel like it's energized. Caffeine manages to block adenosine receptors, a chemical responsible for making us feel sleepy. When that happens, the amount of other neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and dopamine increases, leading to enhanced firing of neurons. This enhancement results in an improvement of cognitive function including memory, mood, vigilance, energy levels, and reaction times. For this reason, coffee gives us energy and enhances our thought process.
Scientific studies have gone as far as finding an association between coffee consumption and lower overall mortality in adults. Studies have shown that coffee can protect us against Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes, liver disease, even liver cancer. There have even been studies affirming that daily coffee consumption decreases the risk of depression.
Nonetheless, coffee consumption above 3 cups a day can be counterproductive (this measure is an average, and it can vary between individuals). Too much coffee will have a negative effect for 3 reasons:
1.- The irony lays in the fact that caffeine can reduce cerebral blood flow by an average of 27%. Adenosine regulates blood flow through the widening of blood vessels. When blood vessels dilate, the blood flow increases and this decreases blood pressure. When we drink too much coffee we are also blocking this function, causing vasoconstriction, increasing blood pressure and lessening the amount of oxygen in the brain.
In order to function optimally, our brain needs oxygen. Oxygen arrives through hemoglobin carried in blood. Lack of oxygen will be more determent than extra neurons firing. These result in worsened cognitive performance.
2.- Adenosine builds up through out the day and when it reaches a certain level it triggers the feeling of fatigue. Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors avoiding communicating to your brain how tired you really are. Once the effect of caffeine subsides, what happens is that all this fatigue hits you at once. When you drink too much coffee you accumulate this fatigue to a point that when its effect diminishes, it causes you to crash. Related to this, the consumption of caffeine over time can increase the amount of adenosine receptors, hence the need of larger amounts of caffeine to achieve the same effect.
3.- Caffeine has a mild diuretic effect. Too much coffee can dehydrate you without you being fully conscious of it. Dehydration causes irritability, dizziness, delayed responses and moodiness.
Keep up with that morning coffee; take advantage of it for all its worth. Nonetheless, be careful not to abuse of it, it will be more hindering than favorable. And now you know why.
Maite is a mom of 3, a Cognitive Neuroscience PhD, Psychologist & Education expert and owner of Neubuco LLC. She offers her knowledge of applied neuroscience to everyday life here at LH.