How Does Coffee Keep You Awake?

Did you remember the time when you first drank coffee? I clearly remember my first coffee experience. I was doing my college thesis and I had to finalize the first three chapters for submission in two days. It was already the wee hours and I was really sleepy, but I had to be awake to work on the final draft. My mom told me to drink coffee and I had a cup of an instant coffee. Since it was my first time, the effect was remarkable. I was wide awake for the next several hours and I grabbed for a second cup at around 5 or 6 am.

Since then, I knew that I could trust a cup of coffee to wake me up, especially while working or finishing a project. However, people say that our reaction to coffee can be different. For some people, it can have an “awakening” effect when they get that sudden “kick”. For others, they feel that they have developed a tolerance to coffee and that the effect of “being awake” isn’t as strong as time goes on.

Regardless of how fast or slow the effect is, the fact that coffee can keep you awake is real! Yes, coffee is a good drink to perk you up if you feel sleepy. Want some proof? Read on.

Experts explain how coffee keeps you awake

How Does Coffee Keep you AwakeCoffee is a staple breakfast drink, and for good reasons. It perks you up and keeps you awake. It is a perfect fixer-upper in the morning, especially if you are preparing for work. The ability of coffee to keep you awake lies in the complex ingredients that make up the coffee beans. When the beans are ground, the chemicals in coffee are retained and this contributes to the potent power of coffee, according to a report published in Check out this list:
Cafestol acts like a bile acid modulator in the intestine. It can regulate the sugar level in our gut before it can be absorbed by the blood. Also, it is a known anti-inflammatory substance that can help improve memory.
Trigonelline is a known anti-bacterial agent that can prevent dental cavities. This antioxidant also gives coffee its bitter taste and heavenly aroma. If you want to get the most of this antioxidant, choose Arabica coffee. When coffee beans are darkly roasted, the trigonelline degrades to form nicotinic acid and pyridines. Nicotinic acid is also known as Vitamin B3 (or niacin), which is a well-known antioxidant.
Chlorogenic Acid
Chlorogenic acid is an important antioxidant because it has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It can help regulate fat in the body and speed up metabolism rate.
Melanoidin is the brown colored, nitrogenous compound in coffee. This antioxidant carries anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, too.
The bitter compound is one of the primary agents in coffee that give the latter some of its antioxidant properties. It is a known element for Malaria treatment.
Also confirmed by the American Chemistry Society, caffeine is an antioxidant that can help cure headaches, in losing weight and preventing diabetes.

Experts pinpoint that caffeine is the strongest contributor to the energy-providing characteristic in every cup of coffee. According to a report by the U.S Food and Drug Administration, caffeine reaches its peak level in the blood within one hour, and can stay in your system for four to six hours. If you consume caffeine every day, your body can build up a tolerance. Initially, one cup of coffee may have kept you awake for one or two hours, but now it may take two cups to get the same effect. The more coffee you drink, the more you may need to stay awake.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, it is the caffeine in coffee that helps keep consumers awake.

The National Institutes of Health described caffeine as a psychoactive drug, a type of mild stimulant that directly affects the brain. Caffeine is both a metabolic and central nervous system stimulant that boosts energy and improves alertness, focus, and concentration. When you drink coffee, the first 15 minutes is the time needed by caffeine to travel to your bloodstream and find its way to your brain. Caffeine can displace adenosine, a hormone in our brain that has a similar makeup as caffeine. When adenosine has no place to go, the brain creates an “emergency” signal that sends an alert to every part of your body. The first receiver of this “warning” is the adrenal gland, which releases adrenaline into your blood and signals your heart to pump more blood, so you can have the energy to “fight or flight” in the case of actual emergencies.

However, there is no real emergency when you drink coffee. The effect of coffee is like jolting you up and getting you ready to be awake so you can perform the task ahead of you.

If you feel up for shopping we have a couple of posts that you might find helpful. Click through to see our list of the strongest k-cup coffee pods and your best options for low acid k-cup coffee pods.

Caffeine content in coffee

If you think that all types of coffee are the same, think again. Caffeine content in coffee varies depending on the type of roast, brewed or instant, and even the different brands of coffee can have a varying amount of caffeine. The Mayo Clinic compared different types of 8-ounce coffee and measured an approximate caffeine content:

  • Black coffee   95 to 200 mg
  • Instant black coffee    27 to 173 mg
  • Latte    63 to 175 mg
  • Decaf coffee   2 to 12 mg

Many experts agree that the recommended daily average caffeine intake should be 200 to 300 milligrams or the equivalent of 2 to 3 cups of brewed coffee. If one drinks more than 300 milligrams, they may develop tolerance to caffeine and they will no longer enjoy the expected energy-creating benefits of coffee. Even worse, they might be drinking up to 6 cups a day with only a slow acting and constantly diminishing effect to show for it.

In addition to this, the National Sleep Foundation recommends avoiding drinking coffee before bedtime. Since caffeine can last up to six hours in the body, if you drink coffee an hour or two before sleeping, you might find it difficult to catch that sleep.

If you want to have a quick fix when you feel sleepy in the morning or any time of the day, try a cup of coffee. Be careful, though, you may find it so effective that you will easily see why coffee aficionados fell in love with this drink in the first place.

Is coffee that effective?

If you ask me, my answer is an absolute yes! If you ask first time drinkers, they will also relate that first coffee rush. Coffee lovers will not only speak about the numerous health benefits of coffee, but they can also say a million other things to praise coffee. Lately, cold brew has been getting a lot of attention because it is praised for its mild and sweeter taste compared to regular, hot brewed coffee. If you haven’t tried one, a cold brew can be a good introduction to the wonderful world of coffee.

However, it still boils down to your choice. Experts agree that there are other foods, drinks, and activities that can keep you awake aside from drinking coffee. You can eat nuts or drink citrus juices. Others recommend exercise, yoga or a quick run to perk you up.

For me, nothing beats a cup of freshly brewed coffee in the morning, or just about any time when the need to be awake arises.

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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