Caffeine can increase your alertness, boost memory, enhance focus and attention, bring a sense of well-being, promote learning ability, and improve physical performance. Some people, especially young adults and children, might be more sensitive to its negative effects. Caffeine can impact the brain’s development and cause cognitive impairment when consumed in high doses. Children consuming caffeine at an early age can be addicted to it and may have difficulty avoiding it as they get older. A baby is also at risk of having developmental problems when exposed to high doses of caffeine in their mother’s womb or breastmilk.
Our brain constantly changes and develops from birth, childhood, to adulthood.
During our early childhood, our brain experiences rapid development. Notice you learned most things around you when you were a kid? You knew the alphabet, different shades of colors, the vowels, the numbers, and everything else in pre-school.
It’s because, during this stage of our life, our brain is very adaptive and responsive to learning and experiences.
As soon as we enter adulthood, our brain might have reached its full size, but it continues developing and changing.
Many factors influence our brain development, including genetics, experiences, nutrition, social and learning activities, environment, sleep, physical activity, and hormones.
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The impact of caffeine on your brain
1. It stimulates brain function
Why is coffee everybody’s best friend in the morning? A cup of coffee boosts your energy and motivates you to start your day.
Well, thanks to the effects of caffeine stimulating your nervous system. It happens because caffeine can interact with your neurotransmitters and may impact your brain’s activity.
As a result, you’ll feel more alert, awakened, and restless and experience an improved mood.
A study suggests that caffeine can improve cognitive function in adults, which enhances their ability to perform efficiently in tasks that require mental focus and sharpness.
However, caffeine can negatively affect brain development in children and young adults because their bodies cannot tolerate caffeine as much as adults.
2. It can affect your neurotransmitters
Neurotransmitters are like messengers in your brain. They transmit information and signals between the nerve cells in your brain.
These regulate various nervous system functions, including mood, cognitive function, behavior, metabolism, hormones, reproduction, and other physiological processes.
Caffeine can affect your brain’s activity. It primarily interferes with the following neurotransmitters in your brain:
Adenosine is a neurotransmitter that builds up in your brain, making you sleepy and tired. As a result, it plays a vital role in your wake-sleep cycle.
Consuming caffeine blocks adenosine from binding to its receptors in your brain, increasing your alertness and wakefulness.
It’s commonly known as the “feel-good” hormone, but it’s a neurotransmitter often involved in feelings of reward, motivation, and pleasure.
Caffeine can enhance dopamine activity in your brain, uplifting your mood, increasing motivation, and bringing you a sense of well-being.
Caffeine can affect norepinephrine’s activity, a neurotransmitter responsible for your body’s stress response.
As a result, you will experience increased focus, alertness, heart rate, and blood pressure.
Caffeine can contribute to acetylcholine activity in your nervous system, enhancing memory function, learning and understanding, and overall cognitive performance.
3. It can impact brain structure and connectivity
Consuming caffeine may affect the growth of your brain’s nerve cells and impact their functions.
Moreover, as caffeine impacts various activities of the neurotransmitters in your brain, it may lead to structural changes causing different parts of your body to malfunction.
4. It can influence brain plasticity
Brain plasticity refers to your brain’s ability to change or reorganize due to learning new things, remembering information, recovering from injuries, and adapting to environmental changes.
It’s like our brain’s “flexibility” to grow and change depending on our experiences and learning.
Some studies have shown that caffeine may help improve your brain plasticity but can impact your memory and put you at risk of anxiety and insomnia.
7 positive effects of caffeine on your brain
When consumed in appropriate amounts, caffeine can have beneficial effects on your brain.
Remember that each individual has varying caffeine tolerances due to genetics, age, habits, underlying health conditions, and medication (if you take any).
Below are the following beneficial effects of caffeine on brain development:
1. Increased alertness and attention
Caffeine can stimulate various brain activities. For example, it can improve your alertness and combat fatigue, which enhances concentration and attention.
It helps individuals, particularly students and workers, to stay focused on their tasks.
2. Improved memory
Caffeine may help in boosting and improving your memory, both long-term and short-term.
3. Enhances cognitive function
Caffeine may enhance cognitive function, including attention, memory, reaction time, and information processing.
It can help you think more clearly and improve your performance in tasks requiring heavy mental effort.
4. Increased learning ability
Caffeine may help students to improve their learning ability. It will allow them to learn new things quickly.
5. Improved physical performance
Caffeine can boost your physical health and overall performance.
It can increase your stamina, allowing you to exercise for longer durations or at higher intensities.
6. It may improve your mood
Caffeine is also a well-known mood enhancer.
Ever had a cup of coffee and felt an uplifting mood on your first sip? Well, that’s about the effect of caffeine, which gives you a sense of well-being.
It also increases feelings of alertness, happiness, and motivation.
7. It may reduce the risk of certain health conditions
Some studies suggest that regular, moderate caffeine consumption may reduce your risk for Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, and certain types of cancer.
However, further research is still needed to understand it fully.
7 negative effects of caffeine
Caffeine may be harmful when you consume it excessively or when you’re sensitive to its effect.
Below are some ways in which caffeine may negatively impact the brain’s development:
1. It can impact your sleeping patterns
Caffeine can delay your brain’s ability to feel tired and drowsy.
While this is helpful in some situations, caffeine can disrupt your normal sleep-wake cycle, leading to problems with concentration, learning, and memory.
Moreover, a developing brain needs sufficient sleep to become healthy. Getting inadequate sleep can harm your overall health and well-being as well as your cognitive function, mood, and immune function.
2. It can give you anxiety and jitters
Some people are really sensitive to the effects of caffeine, which can worsen feelings of anxiety and restlessness and may even give them physical symptoms like jitters.
These can cause discomfort and interrupt people from doing their daily activities.
3. It can interfere with the growth of brain cells
Caffeine can interfere with the effects of adenosine, a neurotransmitter essential for growing new brain cells.
As a result, it will slow down brain development, disrupt memory, and cause problems with learning ability.
4. It may cause heart-related issues
If you have or have had any heart conditions, it’s crucial to exercise caution when consuming caffeinated beverages.
They can potentially lead to an elevated heart rate, palpitations, and irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia), which may worsen your heart condition.
5. It can lead to dehydration
Caffeine can contribute to dehydration as it’s naturally a diuretic.
It means that caffeine causes your body to lose fluids easily, whether through urine or sweat. If you don’t supply your body with enough fluids and consume excessive amounts of caffeine, you’re at high risk of dehydration.
Your body is about 60%-70% water, so you need to stay hydrated to function well.
However, if it loses more fluid than usual, you will experience headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. The worst that could happen is you could die.
6. It can interact with medicines and supplements
Caffeine may interact with some medications and supplements, causing them to become less effective or leading to adverse reactions.
You must consult your doctor about the medications you’re taking and if it’s safe to have caffeine with them.
7. It can increase the risk of ADHD
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a mental disorder that usually develops during childhood and may persist during adulthood.
Caffeine may put children at high risk of developing ADHD leading to problems with attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
8 tips to improve lifestyle with caffeine
Below are ways you can do to improve your lifestyle and your relationship with caffeine:
1. Set a goal
Having a clear goal can help you get started, keep on track and stay motivated.
To set a goal, you can start by answering some of the following goal questions:
- Why do you want to improve your lifestyle and limit caffeine?
- Are you concerned for your health?
- Do you want to sleep better, reduce anxiety, and improve your well-being?
2. Keep track of all caffeinated food and drinks you take
Take note of how much caffeine you take in a day.
Remember to check the ingredients of your food and beverages to see if they have caffeine.
Some common examples are coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, and chocolate. Doing so will give you a basis on where you can start working from.
3. Start slowly and gradually reduce caffeine intake
For example, you can cut down to one cup of coffee daily if you drink multiple cups daily.
4. Opt for healthy caffeine alternatives
Many decaffeinated healthy drinks can boost your energy levels and improve your mood. Below are some of the following:
- Herbal teas. Some good choices of herbal teas include chamomile, peppermint, and ginger tea. These are naturally caffeine-free and can have beneficial effects on your energy levels. They can be served hot or cold and have a refreshing taste.
- Decaffeinated coffee or tea. You may find decaffeinated versions of your favorite beverages. These drinks have most of their caffeine contents removed but would still give you the same taste as the original version.
- Fruit juices or smoothies. These are good sources of vitamins and minerals that can provide you with a boost of energy to stay healthy and focused. Make sure only to drink 100% natural fruit juices.
- Sparkling or fruit-infused water. One healthy alternative for sodas and energy drinks is sparkling or carbonated water with natural flavors. Make sure you look for products with no added sugars or artificial sweeteners. Adding fruit slices like lemon, cucumber, or berries to your water is just as healthy and will keep you hydrated.
- Coconut water. It contains electrolytes that can impressively replenish your hydration levels and provide a subtle energy boost with its refreshing natural flavor.
- Green tea. It contains caffeine but also has L-theanine, which can promote relaxation and enhance your ability to stay focused.
5. Set your sleeping schedule
Getting enough sleep will allow you to recharge your body so you don’t feel tired in the morning and feel the need for caffeine.
Create a calming and relaxing bedtime routine to stimulate your sleeping hormones. Aim for at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
6. Exercise regularly
Exercising moderately for at least 30 minutes daily can help you boost your energy and improve your sleep quality. It’s also good for your overall health.
7. Practice stress management
Practicing relaxation techniques to reduce stress will help you avoid relying on coffee to feel good or relaxed.
Deep breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, or doing your hobbies are healthy ways to manage your stress.
8. Eat your meals on time
Having meals and snacks regularly and on time throughout the day can help you keep your energy levels up.
Why should children avoid caffeine?
Caffeine can affect both children and adults in the same way. But, it may have greater effects on children because their bodies are still developing and have a low tolerance to caffeine.
Children may experience negative side effects of caffeine even on low doses.
Along with the negative effects of caffeine listed above, children may experience upset stomach symptoms from drinking caffeinated beverages, such as the following:
Moreover, children drinking caffeine early will be at high risk of dependence and addiction as they age.
Parents must be aware of the food and beverages that their kids are consuming.
If you’re concerned about the effects of caffeine on your kids, talk to a doctor immediately.
Below are some ways in which you can help your kids avoid drinking caffeine:
- Read food labels carefully. Caffeine is typically found in coffee, tea, energy drinks, sodas, chocolate, and some medications. Help them identify caffeinated products and make good food choices.
- Talk to your kid about the risks of caffeine. Teach your children what caffeine is, how it affects their bodies, and why limiting or avoiding it is important. Explain that caffeine can disrupt sleep, increase anxiety, and can negatively impact their growth and development.
- Set a good example. Avoid drinking caffeine too. If your kid doesn’t see you consuming it, they will be less likely to consume it too.
- Give them healthy food and beverage choices. Keep out any caffeinated beverages from their reach in your household. Instead, offer them healthy beverages like water, milk, or natural fruit juices. You may also want alternatives like flavored water, herbal tea, or decaffeinated beverages.
- Promote other sources of energy and focus. Helping your kid engage in various physical activities, eating healthy and balanced meals, and getting regular exercise will positively impact their energy levels and ability to focus, reducing their desire for caffeine.
How much caffeine should you have?
People may react differently to caffeine due to several factors, like their age, weight, and health status.
The following are guidelines on how much caffeine should every individual take depending on their age:
- Healthy adults must limit their caffeine intake to 400 mg per day. This is about the amount of four to five cups of coffee or 10 cans of soda.
- Pregnant women should consume only about 200 mg of caffeine daily or less. Excessive caffeine consumption during pregnancy can increase the risk of miscarriage and preterm labor.
- Children ages 4-6 should not consume any caffeine at all.
- School-aged children from 7-12 years old must not consume above 85 mg of caffeine each day. This is about the caffeine content in a 12-ounce can of soda.
- Young adults ages 13-18 years must limit their caffeine intake to about 100 mg per day. This is roughly equivalent to the caffeine content in a cup of coffee.
How does caffeine affect your baby when pregnant?
When you consume caffeine during pregnancy, an amount of it can cross the placenta and reach your baby.
The higher your intake, the more harmful it is to your baby.
It can increase your baby’s risk of preterm birth, low-birth weight, and developmental problems and could also result in a miscarriage.
Caffeine can also pass to your breastmilk which your baby will consume.
High levels of caffeine in your breast milk can cause irritability, sleep disturbances, and gastrointestinal problems.
Moreover, your baby’s developing brain is very sensitive to many factors, and caffeine can increase your baby’s risks of developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and cognitive malfunctions.
Caffeine can also affect the functions of your baby’s central nervous system, heart, and other organs.