Coffee makes the world go round – or that’s what they say, at least. Some 83% of US adults drink coffee on a regular basis, and it’s become such a cultural staple that shirts saying “Don’t talk to me before I’ve had my coffee” are a common occurrence. And for the most part, there’s nothing wrong with that: there are a plethora of proven health benefits to moderate coffee consumption, and if people were to pick a drug of choice, they could do a lot worse than caffeine. Nevertheless, coffee is still a drug after all, and as a South Bay therapist, I can’t help but ask: what effect does it have on us psychologically?
Coffee has many effects, but the primary benefit for most drinkers is its stimulant properties. Caffeine, along with the hundreds of other chemical compounds found in coffee, has a number of effects on the body, many of which we do not understand. Some of the most important, however, are that it causes the brain to release dopamine and the adrenal glands to release adrenaline. Both of these chemicals can act to lift moods and increase energy levels – and once again, in moderation, that can be a good thing.
The problem occurs with too much coffee drinking at the wrong times. Repeated over consumption of coffee can exhaust the adrenal glands and cause them to function poorly, leading to symptoms like increased stress, anxiety, insomnia, hypertension, and a plethora of other issues.
In addition to quantity, time of day also matters for the psychological effects of caffeine. One cup of coffee in the morning can actually help to regulate your circadian rhythm, which is the body’s natural clock for when you feel awake and when you feel tired. However, drinking coffee later in the day – especially after 1 or 2 pm – can disrupt this cycle, leaving you sleepless when it comes time for bed.
That’s because caffeine has a half-life of 6 hours, meaning that 6 hours after you finish your cup of coffee, you’ll have half the total amount of caffeine from that cup in your bloodstream. So do the math: if you drink a cup of coffee at 2pm, it’ll be like having drank a half cup at 8pm, and a third of a cup around 11pm.
When consumed in moderation and in the morning, coffee can be a legitimate healthy beverage with a positive overall impact on your life – but it’s important to maintain moderation and a healthy schedule of coffee drinking. If you’re experiencing too much stress or anxiety, it might be time to cut back on caffeine, but if that still doesn’t help, I’m always here. As a therapist and psychologist serving Hermosa Beach and the South Bay area, I regularly work with clients to manage and overcome feelings of fear, stress, and anxiety, helping them lead happier, more peaceful lives. Feel free to fill out my contact form if you’d like to schedule a consultation to learn more about therapy, and until next time, remember to drink coffee in moderation to reap its benefits and avoid its downsides.