I will admit, before I was pregnant I used to start my day with a cup of coffee or tea.. and once I got to work, if someone hadn’t gone already, I was the first to head off to the nearby Dunkin Donuts for a large cup of hazelnut coffee. Unless it was fall, then it was always pumpkin flavored something. And maybe it was in my head, but I always believed that caffeine helped me become more productive. Maybe it did and maybe it didn’t. So is there a connection between caffeine and productivity? Or are our minds just playing tricks on us?
How Caffeine Works
First, it would be helpful to look at how caffeine actually works. Specifically then, caffeine works by blocking the brain’s adenosine receptors.
Adenosine is a neurotransmitter that makes us feel sleepy and when the brain blocks the receptors, this prevents it from taking action on our brain. As a result, we don’t feel as worn out and our brain feels more alert and aware. What’s interesting, is that the response to this is for our brains to produce even more neurochemicals to help us feel even more alert. Thus we release dopamine and adrenaline and become increasingly more switched on and focused.
The Effects of Caffeine
In the short term, caffeine positively impacts on focus and on memory and helps to make us more productive as a result.
Unfortunately though, it also has a number of unwanted side effects. For starters, it causes the brain to produce more adenosine receptors over time. The more caffeine we consume, the more receptors we grow and the more caffeine we need to get the same buzz.
Eventually, we become so sensitive to adenosine that we need caffeine just to feel ‘normal’. In fact, it has been suggested that often when we wake up with sleep inertia, we are in fact not overly tired but instead feeling the effects of caffeine withdrawal from not having had any coffee during our sleep!
Caffeine also negatively affects our sleep, it creates something of a ‘crash’ when it wears off and the adenosine build up comes flooding in and it can hamper our creativity (because focus is actually antithetical to creativity in many ways).
So what’s the solution? To stop drinking caffeine?
Actually no – not if it is working for you. However, what you do need to consider is cutting back and you should make sure you never find yourself in a position where it becomes a crutch.
So does caffeine really help with productivity?
Yes… and no.
It may give you the quick boost that you need, but once it wears off, it may hit hard which could lead you to being less productive.