Morning lull

Yesterday, I read an article on the BBC news site that came as a crushing disappointment to me. Which is to say, it confirmed something I’d always kind of known, but never been willing to admit to myself. The short version: a cup of coffee in the morning doesn’t actually make you energetic.

“But wait,” I cried to myself in desperation, “I always feel groggy in the morning until I have a cup of coffee!” As it turns out, the research presented in the article confirms this to be true. Now comes the crushing disappointment. You know what causes that groggy feeling? Sadly, it’s coffee.

The research shows that people who drink coffee in the morning are no more alert than their peers who go without a cup of joe. Tests of reaction and alertness show that those who consume caffeine score no better than those who abstain. This is because caffeine consumption in the morning does not provide a boost, it only provides relief from the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal.

Those who drink coffee (or other caffeinated beverages) on a regular basis aclimatise their bodies to the stimulant. Let me restate that in a way that is less of a lie to myself: Those who drink coffee on a regular basis become physically dependant on the stimulant. Overnight, they’re not getting their fix, so when they wake up in the morning, they are suffering from a mild form of withdrawal, and feel groggy and out of sorts until they get some of their drug of choice into their system. Thus, it feels like a pick-me-up, but that morning cup of coffee is in reality just getting you back to the baseline that your clean-living friends were cruising at without any chemical assistance.

The article does say that it is possible to get a boost of energy and alertness from caffeine, but it only works if you haven’t had any for quite some time. If it’s been a month (I just made that time-frame up, to be honest) and then you have a quadruple espresso, it will give you a great buzz, but it really only works the first time. Once your body gets used to it, you’re back to being a troll until you get your morning latte.

 I will note that there is a quote from a member of the British Coffee Association in the article which says, in part “…moderate coffee consumption of four to five cups per day…”. Four or five cups per day? Goodness! I don’t have a problem after all. I can stop any time I want to, honest.

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13 Responses to Morning lull

  1. Dana says:

    Well, I suppose this explains why my inaugural cup of a triple-shot mocha (given to me by my father, that notorious provider of addictive substances!) had such a dramatic effect that has never, ever repeated itself. I still remember how wired I was that day, and it’s been more than 10 years now, I’m sure. My condolences on the stripping of some of your illusions.

    On the other hand, the reason I learned to like coffee, and the reason it was my father undertaking the campaign to get me to do so at a relatively youngish age, is that it is actually medicinally useful to combat asthma attacks. My family discovered this by happy accident when the car broke down in the middle of a pretty bad attack and I didn’t have my inhaler. Then I found out that it is actually a common strategy, suggested even by doctors. So I suppose I can take comfort in the fact that I have a legitimate excuse to “need” to drink coffee. (Although I can’t now, since the coffee pot broke. *sniff*) Don’t you wish you had asthma, instead of a mild caffeine addiction? Hmmm, maybe not.

  2. jennie says:

    Your morning coffee does make you energetic. Whether it’s because of caffiene or just because you needed your fix doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. It’s just *why* it works.

    If you didn’t have your coffee, you would be sluggish. Sure, it’s because you’re addicted, but hey, it still works. 🙂

    I’ll have to read the article to see if it addresses my question of…

    What if you only drink caffeine in the morning? I mean, I have my morning cup of joe, but I don’t often drink anything caffienated for the rest of the day. Is it still an overnight-withdrawal thing? Or is it psychosomatic– the morning cup of coffee is part of my waking-up ritual. If I miss that step of my ritual am I missing the coffee or the ritual?

    I really don’t care why. What I know is coffee in the morning=happier, easier to deal with jennie.

    And, of course, today there was no coffee. I am tired and cranky. And sick but the sick part has more do with the why there was no coffee. I’ll shut up now.

  3. akdmyers says:

    I only consume caffeine sporadically, and have to be very careful not to do so at all after about noon unless I want to be up all night. I often feel like it’s just having something warm and soothing to drink in the morning that wakes me up and makes me feel better about my day than the actual caffeine content. I have definitely had the experience of caffeine giving me a boost, though – I distinctly remember one day in high school when I hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before (as in, maybe 2-4 hours, tops) and was really dragging. I bought a diet coke and drank it when I got to school, and still felt like crap for the morning. Right after lunch though, I actually felt the moment the effects of the caffeine wore off – it felt like all of a sudden there was nothing holding up my spine. Very disconcerting.

    As to the health benefits of caffeine, it is also sometimes recommended as relief for migraines, though it can also *cause* migraines, so one has to be a bit careful in its use. But for someone like me, who rarely has caffeine anymore, the caffeine cure for migraines is a godsend. I also know of someone who hates coffee, but every so often will get a craving for it, which is a sign that she is getting a migraine and had best go drink some coffee if she doesn’t want it to get worse.

  4. Mark says:

    Jennie,

    Once again, our disagreements stem from a difference in definitions. If you define “energetic” as “having more energy than I did half an hour ago” then yes, coffee in the morning makes me energetic. If you define “energetic” as “having more energy than I would have if I just left my long-suffering body to its own devices”, then no, coffee in the morning just makes me “normal” (not an adjective often applied to me, I know).

    As for only getting caffeine in the morning, I think that’s a question of dosages. It takes the better part of 24 hours to entirely clear your system, so if you only have it in the morning, the levels in your bloodstream fall off quickly in the morning, then slow their rate of removal in a sort of reverse J-curve over the course of the day. By the time you go to bed, you still have some left, but not much. By the next morning, you’re pretty much entirely out, and your body complains.

    If, on the other hand, you continue to “top off” your bloodstream during the day, then the difference between evening and morning, after eight hours with no “booster”, is large. You might say that it’s night and day, but people might punish you for bad punning. This, I suspect, would tend to exaggerate the withdrawal symptoms, particularly because your body would be used to higher dosages.

    Then again, I am not a biochemist. Perhaps I just entirely miss the point. Based on my own personal experience, though, I feel pretty confident.

  5. Mark says:

    Ann,

    The sensation of usually rigid portions of your anatomy suddenly liquefying is, I agree, more than a little bit startling. Glad to see you got your spine to re-freeze. Now we can use that emergency bucket for something else!

    I find that caffeine works wonders on headaches. However, I don’t get migraines. Or, at least, I don’t get really bad headaches very often, and though I’m not certain at what point a headache becomes a migraine, I’m reasonably confident that mine don’t qualify. My other caveat here is that I’m reasonably sure that many, though not all, of the headaches I get are, in fact, caffeine headaches. Addiction might be my constant companion, but it is not my friend.

  6. Dana says:

    From Wikipedia, on why caffeine seems to affect headaches and asthma:

    “The metabolites of caffeine contribute to caffeine’s effects. Theobromine is a vasodilator that increases the amount of oxygen and nutrient flow to the brain and muscles. Theophylline, the second of the three primary metabolites, acts as a smooth muscle relaxant that chiefly affects bronchioles and acts as a chronotrope and inotrope that increases heart rate and efficiency…”

    Two sections below that is the section on Tolerance and Withdrawal, which seems pertinent as well. It contains this (probably widely known) bit of information:

    “Caffeine makes pain relievers 40% more effective in relieving headaches and helps the body absorb headache medications more quickly, bringing faster relief. For this reason, many over-the-counter headache drugs include caffeine in their formula. It is also used with ergotamine in the treatment of migraine and cluster headaches as well as to overcome the drowsiness caused by antihistamines.”

    And finally, for Mark and all the other male caffeine addicts:

    “A study has found that caffeine blocks the effects of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), known to damage hair follicles. Scientists estimate up to 60 cups of coffee a day would be needed for significant amounts to reach follicles in the scalp, prompting German cosmetics firm Alpecin to develop caffeine-rich solutions for topical application to the head.”

  7. Mark says:

    Dana,

    Caffeine is a vasodilator? I thought it was a vasoconstrictor. In fact, searching through several other sites, I find that my memory is confirmed. Is this a difference between the overall effects of caffeine versus the individual effects of its components, or is Wikipedia just wrong? Then again, other sources seem to confirm the Wiki entry, though that one is difficult for me to parse, as it makes heavy use of medical terminology I am only fractionally familiar with. Maybe it just flips a coin for each vessel, to keep things interesting.

    As for preventing hair loss, that sounds interesting. Drinking as much coffee and other caffeinated beverages as I do doesn’t seem to have done the trick, and I’m offended at the idea of spending huge sums of money on special creams for my scalp. Maybe I could get away with just pouring the free office coffee over my head, and hope that’s good enough.

  8. AKDMyers says:

    Mark,

    A migraine is usually characterized by sharp, constant (as in not throbbing), localized pain towards the front of the head (often right between the eyes), nausea, dizziness, sensitivity to light and sometimes sensitivity to sound. Some people also get auras, which can be little flashing lights or shimmering in your peripheral vision, or other vision changes. Very exciting. I once lost depth perception while trying to cross a busy London street. VERY exciting.

    Back to the caffeine discussion, I am reminded of one of my father’s favorite stories about a Swedish housekeeper whose employer was astonished at how much coffee she seemed for be buying for the household. He finally got up the nerve to ask her how much coffee she was drinking per day, and she guessed about 24 cups. Her employer was even more astonished and exclaimed, “Doesn’t it keep you awake?!”

    “Ja, it helps.”

  9. TheGnat says:

    Caffeine also dehydrates you, which is one of the ways it can cause headaches. And it makes the symptoms accompanied by menustration worse. I, however, am prone to headaches and migranes, and pain-killers don’t work, but coffee does if I’m well-hydrated. And while I avoid coffee in general during “that time of the month”, a cup of mocha does wonders for how I’m feeling. It may be because a shot of espresso has less caffiene in it than your average serving of coffee, and mochas have chocolate, which despite containing caffiene, is good for menustrating women. I’m beginning to think caffiene must interact in some odd little way with chocolate….
    I’m also not really addicted. I have a latte every week day with lunch, no coffee on the weekends, and I don’t drink or eat anything else that has caffiene in it on any kind of a regular basis. Take that coffee fiends! I can be chipper in the morning for *real*!!!

  10. Mark says:

    Ann,

    By those standards, my headaches certainly don’t count as migraines. I’ve only had a sensation like that once, and it was, I know for certain, as the result of acute caffeine withdrawal. I’d been going through somewhere in the range of two or three pots (yes, pots, not cups) of coffee a day, plus a bit of cola (up to and including two liters a day) at the time, and I’d gone home for the weekend. I had no caffeine at all on Saturday, as I didn’t happen to have any in the house. No problem. Sunday morning I woke up and was so utterly miserable that I couldn’t even get myself upright and out the door to find caffeine. I managed to drag myself to the phone and call the girl I was dating at the time, who was kind enough to bring me some.

    My body, miserable traitor that it is, didn’t even need to actually *consume* the caffeine for me to start feeling better. Just seeing the drink in the cup was enough to take the edge off. It knew what was coming, and while I still felt pretty bad, I was no longer unable to function. Sometimes, my body is too clever by half.

    I still consume more caffeine than I know I should, but I have cut way, way back from those days. It’s still something I struggle with. I’m getting better, but I’ve got a long way to go. I generally don’t have any caffeine anytime after lunch any more, and it seems to have at least reduced my insomnia. As your Swedish housekeeper no doubt could have told me it would.

  11. Mark says:

    Gnat,

    Be wary. We addicts, especially those of us addicts who were never morning people in the first place, are prone to respond to bright-eyed, chipper people with loathing before ten o’clock in the morning. We are slow moving and dim-witted, to be sure, but also vengeful and wroth. Some of us are willing to hold a grudge into the early afternoon, at which point, we’re more than capable of quick thinking and our full range of motion. That is when we strike swiftly from the shadows against those who danced about and sang happy, perky songs at unwholesome hours.

    You have been warned…

    You’re quite right about the dehydration, though. I currently have a cup of coffee and a glass of water on my desk. I try to make sure I don’t show undue preferential treatment to the former.

  12. TheGnat says:

    I have no fear of your wroth. For while I said I can be chipper in the morning for real, what this really meant was that coffee or lack thereof in no wise affects my ability to be chipper. However, the fact that I am actually nocturnal, no matter how diligent I am about my sleep schedule, means that waking up before noon, and being awake during daylight in general, leaves me rather sluggish and sarcastic. Now post more articles! *cracks whip*

  13. Addictions says:

    Addictions

    Addictions

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