Is coffee really killing your success?

Coffee is in actual fact the unofficial beverage of the workforce. It’s not until that first hit of caffeine that we truly feel alive. And it doesn’t stop there. As the day’s demands wear us down, we often reach for the cup of Java triple Espresso for that much-needed kick.

However the debate on coffee’s role on productivity seems to be unrelenting. It seems every day there is a different study telling us it is slowly killing us, helping us live longer, giving us cancer, helping to fend off cancer, making our workouts worse, making our workouts better, making us more creative, reducing our creativity and turning us into mindless robots, etc.

Is coffee really slowly killing your success? Are there darker, less beneficial effects that are cancelling out the benefits?

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Is Coffee Good?

Many studies suggest that caffeine actually improves cognitive task performance (memory, attention span) in the short-term. So you pull an all-nighter to finish that presentation your boss needed yesterday.

By 5am you are through but now you need to go to work and submit the midnight magic you performed. Instinctively, you wake yourself up in the morning using yet another cup of coffee. Research from John Hopkins Medical School shows that performance increases due to caffeine intake are the result of caffeine drinkers experiencing a short-term reversal of caffeine withdrawal.

Essentially, coming off caffeine diminishes your cognitive performance and has a negative impact on your mood. The only way to get back to normal is to drink caffeine, and when you do drink it, you feel as if it’s taking you to new heights. In reality, the caffeine is just taking your performance back to normal for a short period.

On top of actually doing nothing to boost performance, it causes you to lose focus, productivity and even develop long-term physical and mental health complications.

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Anxiety and restlessness

Caffeine stimulates the production of adrenaline, the fight-or-flight chemical in the brain that’s usually produced as a result of stress. In small quantities, this can give us a boost of energy, but if you’re prone to anxiety or have an anxiety or panic disorder, caffeine can exacerbate those problems. Too many cups of coffee can also widen your arteries and cause blood to rush deliver oxygen to your brain and tissues, creating a feeling of alertness that can be perceived as jitteriness. The jitters are literally your body working too quickly, and that can be pretty unpleasant, especially when you want to relax. You might even experience an annoying eyelid twitch.

Excessive coffee drinking can trigger panic attacks in vulnerable individuals, and lead to increased anxiety and restlessness in others. If you end up drinking more coffee than usual, this can leave you a fidgeting mess, with your mind racing. You’ll also be unable to settle down enough to get your work done.


When you consume a lot of caffeine close to bedtime, this may make your body remain awake longer as compared to the ordinary circumstances. This will leave you tired the following day causing you to drink even more caffeine in a never-ending cycle. You will get to a situation where you will be so deprived of sleep that not even caffeine will help you. This will cause your productive to take a nosedive. Additionally, while we seek caffeine to fend off exhaustion, that same quality also inhibits the sleep cycle. We’ve all heard the countless benefits of REM (the deep sleep in which your body recuperates and processes emotions); its effect on creative thinking is no different. Caffeine consumption, even if early in the day, makes it more difficult for people to fall asleep and then, once they are asleep, it is more difficult to hit the REM cycle.

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Caffeine has a six-hour half-life, which means it takes a full twenty-four hours to work its way out of your system. Having a cup of coffee at 8 am and you’ll still have 25 per cent of the caffeine in your body at 8pm. Anything you drink after noon will still be at 50 per cent strength at bedtime. Any caffeine in your bloodstream, with the negative effects increasing with the dose, makes it harder to fall asleep. In addition, like any stimulant, caffeine is physiologically and psychologically addictive. If you do choose to lower your caffeine intake, it’s a very bad idea to quit caffeine cold turkey. You should do so slowly under the guidance of a qualified medical professional. Withdrawal symptoms associated with caffeine include fatigue, headache, difficulty concentrating and sleepiness. Some people report feeling flu-like symptoms, depression, and anxiety after reducing intake by as little as one cup a day.

When should you drink caffeine?

When you drag yourself out of bed at 6am, coffee is often the first thing that comes to mind. But according to science, early morning may not be the best time to consume caffeine. Throughout the day our bodies release cortisol, a hormone that wakes us up and makes us more alert. Our cortisol levels are generally high in the morning as our bodies try and rouse us from a prolonged period of sleep. If you consume caffeine while your body is producing cortisol, it will likely have less of an effect. In addition, it will cause your body to build up a tolerance to caffeine more quickly.

If you wake up between 6am and 8am, you should wait until sometime between 9:30am and 11:30am for your first cup of coffee. The next phase of cortisol production generally happens between noon and 1pm, so schedule your afternoon coffee break later, say between 1:30pm and 5:30pm. Between 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. is also peak cortisol level. So aim for your second cup right after lunch, but before 3 p.m. If you drink coffee after 3 p.m., your whole life is apparently doomed.

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