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The Coffee Conundrum: Would We Be Better off without Caffeine?

By Thomas Harrison   |   Posted in Sleep Research   |   Wednesday 25th March 2015

The Coffee Conundrum: Would We Be Better off without Caffeine?

It’s hard to know what to believe online when it comes to the health implications of what we consume. One week red meat is good for you, the next, don’t even go near it. The same can be said about coffee, and the debate is quite strongly argued: some are very protective of their coffee, seeing it as the precious elixir that keeps their lives together, whereas to others, it’s a disgusting and over-relied upon concoction that symbolises the needlessly fast-paced high-stressed lifestyles that so many people now live. But what are the facts? Would it be healthier if we stopped drinking coffee and/or caffeine altogether?

54% of adult Americans drink a form of coffee every day, and caffeine is the most-used psychoactive drug in the world. Well over 2 billion cups are drank every single day, and the industry is believed to employ over 25 million people worldwide. It is so popular due mainly to being one of the most powerful legally-available stimulants.

Benefits of coffeeThe coffee conundrum

Alertness

This is the fundamental reason why coffee is the most popular beverage in the world it - makes you feel awake, alert, and ‘ready’, thanks to its active ingredient of caffeine. As mentioned, caffeine is a stimulant, which means it temporarily improves physical and mental performance – better concentration, faster reaction times, greater endurance, motivation and productivity all ensue in only a matter of minutes after drinking caffeine.  

Antioxidants

This is another buzzword that often gets thrown around in the coffee debate, but not many people are aware of what an antioxidant actually is. Antioxidants are chemicals that slow down or prevent cell damage by donating electrons to the free radicals in our body. Free radicals are unstable and highly-reactive molecules just looking to ‘snatch’ an electron from our valuable biological molecules, which leads to damage to our cells, organs and tissues. Americans get more of their antioxidants from coffee than any other dietary source - coffee is a rich source of antioxidants, and in the long term, this is believed to lower your risk of developing serious diseases by keeping free radicals at bay.

Diabetes prevention

New research is showing that drinking coffee can lower the risk of developing diabetes. In an experiment tracking around 100,000 people for 20 years, researchers at Harvard concluded that people who increased their coffee intake by over one cup per day were 11% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, and that people who reduced their coffee intake by the same amount were 17% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

Social importance

Health benefits aside, coffee plays an important role in social situations and gives people a reason/excuse to interact. Coffee is often described as a ‘social lubricant’, and the coffee culture, popularised heavily by TV shows like Friends, is seen by many as a better alternative to drinking alcohol in bars as a means to socialise with friends and colleagues. Asking someone to go for a coffee with you is seen as the modern alternative to going on a date, and its social importance should not be underestimated.

Coffee from an economic viewpoint

We’re focusing here mainly on the health side of things, but economically speaking, we absolutely would be worse off without coffee. Coffee is one of the oldest commodities and many cities and even countries owe their development to the coffee bean. It’s such a strong commodity that some cultures saw it as a currency in its own right, and even in prisons, coffee is sometimes traded as intensively as illegal drugs. Tens of millions of farmers and traders worldwide owe their livelihoods to coffee and it is one of the fundamental commodities that society has built itself upon.

The negatives

Delays sleep

We’re putting coffee’s effect on sleep as both an advantage and disadvantage. It’s undeniable that being more alert is advantageous in many daily situations, but caffeine can stay in your system for anywhere between 8 and 14 hours, keeping you awake at night when you want to drift off. Caffeine doesn’t keep your need for sleep at bay – it just keeps your perception of needing to sleep at bay – just because you don’t feel tired doesn’t mean you don’t need sleep. We’ll go into more detail about this later…

Anxiety

Caffeine is strongly linked with anxiety and depression. Caffeine stimulates the production of adrenaline, and adrenaline is the main hormone responsible for triggering the ‘fight or flight’ response. Caffeine increases your blood pressure and your heart rate, which can make your breathing become more rapid – a combination of these factors leads to an overall less-relaxed state of mind, increasing feelings of worry and anxiety. If you suffer from anxiety then relying on caffeine could be very detrimental to the condition – panic attacks are sometimes linked to caffeine consumption, but if you've had no previous incidences of anxiety then this is something you don't really need to worry about.

Fluid and nutrient loss

Caffeine is a diuretic which means it increases the need to urinate. However, it would be incorrect to say coffee is dehydrating, and it still counts as being part of your recommended daily water intake. Caffeine is also believed to impair your ability to absorb calcium and iron.  

Headaches

Not having your morning coffee can cause headaches if it’s part of your usual routine, and this is because of caffeine withdrawal effects, which we’ll get to in a second.

Laxative effects

Caffeine can stimulate movement of the colon muscles which makes you need the bathroom more. Caffeine is also believed to promote the process of gastric emptying, which means food is digested faster, and because the food spends less time in our system, it means less nutrients are absorbed into our blood.

The main issue: Tolerance, dependence & withdrawal effects

This is probably the fundamental coffee conundrum – if it’s a regular part of your routine then your body will become tolerant to its effects, and then rely upon it in order to function normally.There is too much blood in my caffeine stream

Tolerance of any drug depends heavily on the drug strength and the person in question, but tolerance to caffeine is believed to develop quickly. A study at Vanderbilt University Medical Centre found that it can only take between one and four days for near-complete caffeine tolerance to develop. What this study reiterates is that caffeine will only be effective if you’re not consuming it regularly, and daily consumption almost completely renders it useless.

To understand why this happens, we must look at the science of how caffeine works, and why we even feel tiredness in the first place. When you’re awake and active, your neurons are working very hard, firing millions of signals every second. A side-effect of this is that a neurochemical called adenosine builds up inside your brain over the course of the day. Adenosine inhibits brain activity, and causes drowsiness - this is why you feel more tired the longer you're awake, and sleeping acts as a means to 'clear away' the build-up of adenosine. Our nervous system has receptors which monitor the build-up of adenosine, so if more adenosine is detected then you’ll feel drowsier. Caffeine molecules are structurally very similar to adenosine, and those receptors can't tell the difference between the two - the caffeine attaches itself to those adenosine-monitoring receptors, and almost blocks adenosine’s pathway, creating a traffic jam of sorts. This prevents your brain from detecting adenosine, promotes adrenaline production and keeps drowsiness at bay – caffeine is clever and literally fools the brain. However, the brain can quickly develop new adenosine receptors to compensate for those blocked by caffeine molecules – this is how the tolerance develops.

Then there’s the next stage – the vicious circle of caffeine dependence.

Try taking coffee away from a regular drinker – they won’t last very long. As caffeine begins to leave your system, all that adenosine which was previously undetected by the receptors (thanks to caffeine blocking the path) will become ‘visible’, and that’ll almost feel like a sudden assault of drowsiness and fatigue. This is often described as a ‘crash’, and you’ll often feel more tired during the crash than when you did before you had the coffee. These peaks and troughs in energy levels aren’t good for the body, what you really want is a steady flow of energy throughout the day.

A lot of people are dependent on caffeine and don’t even realise it, and even though regular coffee drinkers may feel like their morning coffee is perking them up, what they’re actually feeling is the caffeine withdrawal symptoms diminishing. Headaches, depression, constipation, muscle pain, lethargy, sleepiness and irritability can all ensue when your body is suddenly deprived of daily caffeine. This is because coffee drinkers have more adenosine receptors (thanks to caffeine exposure), meaning the effects of tiredness are felt stronger and more rapidly when caffeine isn't in their system. For regular drinkers, that morning coffee is just returning them to their normal ‘baseline’ state, and not the elevated state that non-regular coffee drinkers experience.

However, it must be remembered that caffeine is not a dangerous drug and the dependence we can develop on it in no way replicates that of some of the more powerful drugs available, both legal and illegal. Caffeine is obviously extremely safe in the doses that even the strongest espressos contain, and as explained by Asap SCIENCE, you’d have to consume around 70 cups of coffee at once in order for it to become really dangerous – and that’s pretty impossible. 

To answer the original question, would we be better off without caffeine? Probably. Do we care? Not really, the hug in the mug just tastes too good.  In the long term, you’d certainly be better off without caffeine if it’s a staple part of your diet and you’re consuming it multiple times a day – it’s just not the best idea to be relying on caffeine in order to feel ‘yourself’, your body becomes tolerant and dependent (very slightly) on it, not to mention the fluctuations that your energy levels will undergo daily. But if you strategically use caffeine only occasionally, like before a particularly-early start at work, then that’s when coffee is at its most useful.

If you feel like you could be dependent on caffeine, then why not try giving it up for a few days – try substituting it for just water, and although you may encounter the nasty headaches and other withdrawal symptoms, it’s worth it in the long term, and your tolerance to caffeine will be reset to that of a non-coffee drinker. 



Sleep in the News - Week beginning March 16th 2015

Friday 20th March 2015

Sleep in the News - Week beginning March 16th 2015

Week beginning March 16th 2015

Let’s take a look at where sleep has been appearing in the news around the world this week;

Category: Industry News

Read full: Sleep in the News - Week beginning March 16th 2015

5 Terrifying Sleep Disorders You Won't Believe Exist

Thursday 19th March 2015

5 Terrifying Sleep Disorders You Won't Believe Exist

Good sleep can be wonderful – there aren’t too many feelings better than when your head hits the pillow, with the peace of mind that for the next eight or so hours, nothing can get in the way of your well-deserved shut eye. But what’s surprising is that many aspects of sleep still baffle the medical world, and the world of sleep is such a complicated phenomenon that when things go wrong, they can go very wrong and sometimes in crazy ways. For some, sleep can bring with it some terrifying experiences - let’s take a look at some of the rarest and most unbelievable sleep disorders…

Category: Sleep Research

Read full: 5 Terrifying Sleep Disorders You Won't Believe Exist

Traveller Sleep Tips – Staying Fresh on Your Travels

Wednesday 18th March 2015

Traveller Sleep Tips – Staying Fresh on Your Travels

It’s about that time of year when many of us start to look forward to holidays, travelling to new places and experiencing something different to our day-to-day lives. Wherever you’re going and however you’re getting there, you’ll need good sleep to make the most of your experience. However, sleep doesn’t always make the list of priorities when travelling, with plans, activities and often the sheer excitement of the trip taking over.

So, with that in mind, here are some tips to get the sleep you need while travelling;

Category: Sleep Research

Read full: Traveller Sleep Tips – Staying Fresh on Your Travels

Tough at the Top? How Sleep Varies Between Junior Staff and Senior Management - Survey

Tuesday 17th March 2015

Tough at the Top? How Sleep Varies Between Junior Staff and Senior Management - Survey

Our latest investigation into the nation’s sleep took a look into the world of work, and particularly how those at opposite ends of the seniority scale approached their sleep. The assumption that younger, junior staff members would be ‘burning the candle at both ends’ while senior management figures prioritised the importance of sleep was rather turned on its head, with some intriguing findings. We found that those just starting out in work were well aware of how regular good sleep could help them climb the employment ladder, while those who’d already scaled the corporate heights had somewhat sacrificed the idea of a good night’s sleep and were suffering as a result.workplace

From a survey base of 2,186 UK respondents aged 18 and over, with a near 50/50 split of those in junior or senior roles, we found that junior employees managed an average of 8 hours and 11 minutes sleep per night, while senior figures achieved just 5 hours and 56 minutes on average. This remarkable gap in sleep duration would surely have an impact on work productivity, which was something that we sought to find out.

Category: Ergo Flex News

Read full: Tough at the Top? How Sleep Varies Between Junior Staff and Senior Management - Survey

Sleeping Pills: Everything You Need to Know

Monday 16th March 2015

Sleeping Pills: Everything You Need to Know

Over 10 million prescriptions for sleeping pills are given every single year in England alone, and one in ten of us regularly take a form of sleep medication. It’s a massive industry, and the popularity of the sleeping pill is no-doubt owed to the fact that so many people fail to prioritise their sleeping habits - the UK’s total sleep debt adds up to over 378 million hours per week. Sleep debt refers to the amount of sleep needed and the amount we’re actually getting, and a deficit of 378 million hours in a single week is very worrying are sleeping pills a realistic option to tackling this debt?

Category: Sleep Research

Read full: Sleeping Pills: Everything You Need to Know

Sleep Overindulgence: Why Your Weekend Lie-in Does More Harm than Good

Wednesday 11th March 2015

Sleep Overindulgence: Why Your Weekend Lie-in Does More Harm than Good

A lot of the content on the Ergoflex blog focuses on the dangers of lack of sleep, and the various ways that sleeping too little can negatively affect your health and well-being. And rightly so, there is a whole host of evidence proving this fact, but what about the other end of the scale? Can sleeping too much be bad for you, or even as bad as sleep deprivation?

Category: Sleep Research

Read full: Sleep Overindulgence: Why Your Weekend Lie-in Does More Harm than Good

Space PJs! Vertical Sleeping Bags! Sleep Pods! The Weird World of Astronaut Sleep

Friday 6th March 2015

Space PJs! Vertical Sleeping Bags! Sleep Pods!  The Weird World of Astronaut Sleep

astronaut sleep

Sleeping in space presents a whole new set of challenges compared to what we’re used to here on the ground, and it’s fascinating to see how the issue has been tackled over the decades.

Category: Sleep Research

Read full: Space PJs! Vertical Sleeping Bags! Sleep Pods! The Weird World of Astronaut Sleep

16 Sleep Secrets I Wish I'd Known Sooner

Tuesday 3rd March 2015

16 Sleep Secrets I Wish I'd Known Sooner

Sleep is one of the most undervalued aspects of our lives, and there is a widespread ignorance in our society about sleep deprivation. The reality is that sleep is a wonderful tool, a tool that when used correctly, can significantly improve your health and quality of life. These 16 sleep facts will hopefully make you realise just how important sleeping well is. 

Category: Sleep Research

Read full: 16 Sleep Secrets I Wish I'd Known Sooner

Sleep Tech – Devices Designed for Good Sleep

Tuesday 3rd March 2015

Sleep Tech – Devices Designed for Good Sleep

sleep techTechnology and sleep don’t usually mix, but there are some devices and software that exist to actively promote good sleep, whether it’s through complex sleep-tracking, lifestyle guidance or even just by combating noise pollution.

While we'd always recommend keeping tech like tablets, TVs, stereos and computers well away from where you sleep, this selection of sleep-friendly gadgets definitely deserves a place in the bedroom.

Let’s take a look at the best sleep tech that’s currently available;

Category: Sleep Research

Read full: Sleep Tech – Devices Designed for Good Sleep

Genius Sleep – The Sleeping Habits of History’s Greatest Minds

Tuesday 24th February 2015

Genius Sleep – The Sleeping Habits of History’s Greatest Minds

It’s an established fact that sleep is good for the mind, and that it’s almost impossible to be at your best when suffering from the effects of sleep deprivation. But what about those who excel in their chosen field and take the human race further? How does sleep work for them?

From worlds as diverse as science, music, literature and art, these are people who have broken boundaries, and in some cases, expanded the perceived limits of human potential, and their sleep habits are often as intriguing as their work itself.

Let’s take a look at genius sleep.

 

Category: Sleep Research

Read full: Genius Sleep – The Sleeping Habits of History’s Greatest Minds

The Future of Sleep: 4 Astounding Ways Your Sleep Could Evolve

Wednesday 18th February 2015

The Future of Sleep: 4 Astounding Ways Your Sleep Could Evolve

Physiologically, the way we sleep hasn’t changed too much since the early days of humanity – fair enough, we now have things like sleeping pills and memory foam mattresses, but even early-age humans used herbs to induce sleep, and certainly had their own equivalent to a  mattress/bed. However, it is only in the last thirty years or so that scientists have begun to make breakthroughs in the study of sleep, but so far we’ve barely scratched the surface: experts are yet to provide a definitive reason for why we need sleep, and even seemingly-straight forward questions like ‘why do we yawn?’ or ‘why do we dream?’ remain somewhat of a mystery. But as our understanding grows, so does our ability to change the way we sleep – let’s take a look at how the future of sleep could shape up…

Category: Sleep Research

Read full: The Future of Sleep: 4 Astounding Ways Your Sleep Could Evolve

12 Dream Bedrooms

Monday 16th February 2015

12 Dream Bedrooms

12 dream bedrooms

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From stripped-back minimalism to quirky eclecticism and few stages in between, we think these twelve stunning bedrooms are the stuff of dreams.

Prepare to get lost in a daydream…

Category: Ergo Flex News

Read full: 12 Dream Bedrooms

5 Ways to Style your Bedroom for Sleep

Thursday 12th February 2015

5 Ways to Style your Bedroom for Sleep

1) Colour choices - Think simplicity and serenity

5 ways to style your bedroom for sleepColour choices are perhaps the most immediate way to the set the tone of a room, and dominant colours have the power to influence how you feel. Don’t over-do the number of different colours used in the bedroom, and of course pay close attention to how colours complement each other and work together. When it comes to actual colours, a good rule of thumb is to avoid any stimulating choices like red, orange or any colour close to those on the colour wheel. These colours serve to energise the mind, which isn’t the effect a relaxing bedroom should have. Colours that are found predominantly in the natural world can help create serene vibes in the bedroom – think sky blues and light greens. Similarly, ‘earth tones’ such as subtle browns and stone greys can produce an inherently peaceful result. Alternatively, neutrals like white and cream are a good choice for a minimalist style and offer a calming simplicity.

Category: Sleep Research

Read full: 5 Ways to Style your Bedroom for Sleep

Snoring Map of the UK: Scotland Tops Poll of UK's Worst Snorers

Wednesday 11th February 2015

Snoring Map of the UK: Scotland Tops Poll of UK's Worst Snorers

Our latest sleep survey focused on the issue of snoring, and to investigate if the problem was more common in specific parts of the UK. Surprisingly, our results were very diverse, with some regions having a significantly higher snoring rate than others. Scotland topped our poll, with 61% of their respondents admitting that either they or their partner snored. We quizzed 2,438 UK residents in co-habiting relationships about their sleeping habits, and one startling finding was that 17% of those affected by snoring have even considered surgery to fix the problem. 

The graphic below shows the percentage of snorers in each region of the UK:

snoring map of the UK

Category: Sleep Research

Read full: Snoring Map of the UK: Scotland Tops Poll of UK's Worst Snorers

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