Does Coffee Help You Focus?

For sure, you have experienced feeling sleepy in the middle of an activity. For students, this could happen during classroom hours, late night projects, exam review sessions, or thesis preparations. For employees, sleepy moments may occur in the early afternoon, right after a lunch break, in the middle of a meeting, or when doing overtime. Whether studying or working, there are times when we just need that extra strength to focus and concentrate on getting something done. What kind of drink comes to your mind during these crucial moments? Yes, coffee! A cup of hot coffee is a welcome treat. Even if you are not a coffee lover, you will be tempted to sip that freshly brewed coffee. Then, just like magic, you feel alive, awake and ready to work again. Is it magic or does coffee really help you focus?

The answer is yes! Coffee can make you focus. Check out some of the evidence that proves how coffee helps us keep our focus and concentrate on our activities.

Caffeine – coffee’s wonderful ingredient

Does Coffee Help You FocusCaffeine is a known stimulant, but not the illegal kind. Caffeine, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration report, is a mild stimulant that stimulates the central nervous system. Several types of research have pointed out that caffeine can affect areas of the brain that are responsible for memory and concentration. When you drink coffee and feel that sudden energy and ability to focus, it is not your imagination. The caffeine in your drink is stimulating your brain to focus and concentrate.

Florian Koppelstätter and colleagues at the Medical University of Innsbruck, Austria performed a study in 2005. They found that caffeine triggered increased activities of the anterior cingulate and the anterior cingulate gyrus in the prefrontal lobe of the brain. These areas of the brain are responsible for planning, attention, monitoring, and concentration. However, one of the study’s limitations is the duration of the effect of caffeine in terms of focus and concentration.

Caffeine’s effect on the brain was also observed among athletes. B. Sökmen, L.E.Armstrong, and colleagues reported in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research in 2008 research on the cognitive effects of caffeine on athletes. They found that caffeine taken before a strenuous training exercise can help sustain exercise intensity and also improve concentration, in particular when the athlete has not had sufficient sleep. This was especially true if the caffeine was taken gradually, in small doses over a period of three or four days.

The effects of caffeine were also observed among soldiers during a simulated combat practice. It had been found that caffeine played a role in better concentration, especially in rifle marksmanship and target detection. The observation pointed towards caffeine having a strong effect, especially during stressful conditions and activities.

How much caffeine do you need in order to concentrate?

According to WebMD, coffee is not a magic drink that will miraculously make you smarter or boost your IQ; but, it can really energize you and help you concentrate. However, keep in mind that the effects may be short-term. Therefore, health experts advise that do not over-drink it. If you do, instead of getting the needed energy and concentration, it can make you uncomfortable.

Coffee and coffee-based products are not created equal. The amount of caffeine in a coffee depends on many factors, such as:

  • Type of coffee beans: There are many varieties of coffee beans available, which may naturally contain different amounts of caffeine.
  • Roasting: Lighter roasts have more caffeine than darker roasts, although the darker roasts have a deeper flavor.
  • Type of Coffee: The caffeine content can vary significantly between regularly brewed coffee, espresso, instant coffee, and decaf coffee.
  • Serving size: “One cup of coffee” can range anywhere from 30–700 ml (1–24 oz), greatly affecting the total caffeine content.

Caffeine content in common types of coffee drinks are as follows:

  • One cup of brewed coffee (8 oz) contains about 70–140 mg of caffeine, or about 95 mg on average
  • One shot of espresso is generally about 30–50 ml (1–1.75 oz) and contains about 63 mg of caffeine
  • A double shot of espresso, therefore, contains roughly 125 mg of caffeine.
  • Instant coffee usually contains less caffeine than regular coffee, with one cup containing roughly 30–90 mg

The effects of coffee may differ from person to person. Some people have an instant reaction to caffeine and can make them feel awake for hours. For others, caffeine’s wake up buzz can last from 2 to 3 hours. As a result, they grab another cup of coffee to jolt them. However, doctors advise that 2 to 4 cups are the recommended amount of coffee to drink on any given day. Anything in excess may cause negative effects to your body.

How does caffeine affect your brain?

As soon as you drink coffee, the caffeine enters the bloodstream and finds its way to the brain. According to health experts, caffeine is a type of xanthine. This is similar to adenosine, a xanthine that is also found in the brain. When you drink coffee, the caffeine replaces the adenosine in your brain and binds with receptors that are naturally assigned to adenosine. Caffeine and adenosine have such similar characteristics that the brain receptors do not have a problem working with caffeine, like two similar keys that open the same lock. However, this leaves the adenosine with no place to go. When adenosine goes free, the brain’s “panic” button is triggered. This sends signals to different parts of the body to get ready for any immediate action.

One of the first areas of the body to receive this “emergency” signal is the adrenal gland. As a result, it gears up the body for a “fight or flight” mode. Adrenaline is released, that’s why most people feel that “adrenaline rush” when they drink coffee. It is no coincidence. There really is an adrenaline increase. This enables your heart to pump more blood, so it can supply fresh blood and nutrients to all parts of your body, so you can be ready to fight or run in case of an emergency. However, if you don’t use this extra energy for exercise, the preparations all go to your focus and concentration. This is how coffee helps you focus.

How much coffee will keep my focus?

A cup of freshly brewed coffee is enough to provide you with the energy for the next 4 to 6 hours. If it is going to be your first cup of the day, the adrenaline rush from coffee will be stronger and it will keep you more focused and concentrated for the task ahead. However, if you opt for a second or third cup, the effect may not be as strong.

Health experts agree that a person’s daily maximum caffeine intake, to get the best benefits, is up to 300 milligrams of caffeine or about 3 cups of black brewed coffee. If you want to get coffee’s full power to keep you focused, opt for black coffee instead of adding sugar and creamer. The sweetness will diminish the potency of caffeine and your body will react to the excess sugar present in your cup.

The next time you drink a cup of coffee, you will know that caffeine is running in your blood and get ready to have a kick start. Just remember to avoid overdosing yourself.

Brian Mounts

Head blogger, editor, and owner of "Top Off My Coffee", a website that has been educating readers about coffee brewing techniques and equipment since 2012.

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