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How Does Caffeine Affect Productivity?

For most of us, the workday begins at the local Starbucks. 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 coffee pot (or energy drink) for that much-needed kick.

For most of us, the workday begins at the local Starbucks. 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 coffee pot (or energy drink) for that much-needed kick.

Most view caffeine as a natural way to combat fatigue and improve focus, and its benefits are well documented. But does drinking coffee all day really improve your productivity?

The answer is complicated: it really depends on how much you drink, and when you drink it. To help you better understand your caffeine consumption, here are five fast facts about caffeine and productivity.

  1. There are Optimal Times to Drink Caffeine Throughout the Day

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 12pm and 1pm, so schedule your afternoon coffee break later, say between 1:30pm and 5:30pm.

  1. Too Much Caffeine Will Ruin Your Concentration

Although many have tried, you can’t just keep drinking coffee all day and expect a payoff. At some point, your body will hit a wall, and you’ll start to experience irritability, rapid heartbeat, muscle tremors, and restlessness. In other words, you’ll get the dreaded jitters.

At this point your concentration will be shot. Guess what? You’ve just tanked your productivity for a couple of hours!

According to the Mayo Clinic, up to 400 milligrams of caffeine (four cups of coffee or two “energy shot” drinks) is a safe amount for most adults who want to avoid side effects. However, some people are more sensitive and may experience caffeine jitters at a lower dosage. Consuming large amounts of caffeine can also affect your sleep patterns, so make sure you keep track of how much you’ve had throughout the day.

  1. Withdrawals Can Be Painful

We often joke about our caffeine addictions. But the fact is, caffeine is a stimulant that affects our central nervous system, and consuming it regularly can lead to dependence. While caffeine isn’t exactly a “hard drug,” withdrawals can still be unpleasant.

If you think you might be addicted, it’s a very bad idea to quit caffeine cold turkey. Quitting suddenly can lead to unpleasant side effects, such as headaches that last up to nine days.

If you’re trying to reduce your caffeine consumption, do it gradually over a number of weeks to minimize the risk of productivity-killing side effects.

  1. Hold off on That Second Cup—at Least for a Little While

When you drink a cup of coffee, you should feel the effects within 10 minutes. However, it takes much longer—up to 45 minutes—for your body to reach peak alertness.

If you’ve just had a caffeine fix, but you feel it’s not quite working—hold off for 20 minutes or so before you have another cup. Drinking too much too quickly could lead to a crash.

  1. Beware of the Caffeine Crash

When you need to tackle a demanding task, it may seem like a good idea to drink a couple of quadruple-shot espressos to get your energy levels up.

But in actual fact, it’s a terrible idea!

Consuming large amounts of caffeine will likely boost your productivity for a short period. Then, you’ll crash.

A caffeine crash triggers a rapid heartbeat, and symptoms like anxiety and nervousness. In other words, you’re not going to get much work done.

The more caffeine you drink, the bigger the crash. Try moderating your caffeine intake throughout the day instead. That way, you’ll be able to sustain constant energy levels, without the risk of a devastating comedown.

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