Have you ever noticed that an awful lot of stressed-out, tired, over-worked people rely heavily on their caffeine fixes to get them through the day?
Maybe you are one of them.
Caffeine helps you focus, and helps you deal with tiredness, right?
But what if it’s actually not that way around, at all?
What if those lattes, double espressos etc are actually making you tired? What if they’re even responsible for some of your stress? Perhaps they diminish your focus, making you less productive, and ultimately create that overworked feeling?
I read this article by Dr Travis Bradberry (Author of “Emotional Intelligence 2.0”) and was intrigued.
Because it turns out that there’s one big flaw in all of the studies that show how caffeine increases performance and focus – you need to be a caffeine-user to experience the benefit.
If this is truly the case, it’s like claiming that smoking cigarettes is relaxing, when in reality the relaxing aspect is just satisfying a craving for nicotine. Or like suggesting that alcohol stops you from getting the “shakes”, instead of relieving withdrawal symptoms.
This flaw in the studies was probably not picked up because most people do consume caffeine. Some much more than others, admittedly. But as Jack E. James and Michael A. Keane, researchers at the National University of Ireland, pointed out in their 2007 study of caffeine-extract testing, caffeine is “the most widely consumed psychoactive substance in history”. And because of this, finding test subjects who aren’t normally caffeine-users is obviously going to pose a problem.
Anyway, some documented side-effects that show caffeine’s not necessarily helpful if you want to improve your focus (and an epic study here if you want to learn more)
Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Irritability
In high doses, or normal doses for people with a high sensitivity to caffeine, general anxiety is increased.
You’ve probably experienced “jittery” feelings when you’ve drunk too much coffee. Your adrenaline production has been stepped-up.
You’re now in “fight-or-flight” mode. Now your emotions are taking over from reason. Bad decisions ensue.
Reduced Sleep Quality
No surprise here.
Caffeine stays in your system for a long while. 25% of the caffeine you took at 8 am will still be in your system at 8 pm. Any coffee you drink after midday will still be in your system when it’s time to sleep. So problems sleeping are likely.
Once you do actually get to sleep, the complex rhythms that your brain relies on to maintain itself and work at its best are disrupted.
Your REM sleep, when your brain processes memories and emotions, is reduced. If you’re trying to learn anything new, or focus on complicated tasks, this is not helpful. You’ll also see your people skills suffer.
In fact, on the subject of sleep, here’s a whole bunch of different ways not getting sufficient sleep can screw you up.
This is a little controversial. There is certainly a correlation between caffeine intake and depression. But it is likely that depression is related to the sleep problems that caffeine causes. Poor sleep quality and quantity frequently go hand-in-hand with depression.
Increased Blood Pressure and Heart Rate
Although it’s not conclusive that caffeine consumption has a long-term effect on heart rate and blood pressure, in the short-term it is fact.
The related shallow breathing then serves to deprive your brain of oxygen, making considered thought-processes even less likely than they already are with this cocktail of adrenaline, poor quality sleep and limited control over your emotions.
Obviously, anything that leaves you craving for a fix is not good for your focus.
Withdrawal has varying symptoms, which make going “cold turkey” ill-advised.
Headaches, fatigue, flu-like symptoms, depression, and irritability are all quite common side-effects of withdrawal, but a slower reduction instead does minimize problems. Beating Addictions has a good post about how to quit caffeine if you’re concerned that it’s affecting you.