Does Coffee Actually Increase Productivity?

Ah, coffee. While we could sing the praises of the wonderful taste and delightful aromas of high quality single origin coffee beans and perfectly brewed morning coffee, yet even we cannot deny that vast swathes of us primarily reach for a cup to either get an extra jolt or simply to get through the day. 

But is the transformative nature of our habit real or is it all in our heads? Today we will be answering the much pondered question: does coffee increase productivity? Anyone with children can attest to their almost limitless bounds of energy, in spite of never imbibing the sacred coffee bean - so why do us adults need it in order to function?

Coffee and Energy

One of the three resources we never seem to have enough of: time, money and energy. Children have more energy to fuel their learning (brains require a load of power) and they also get more sleep.  And it’s not merely because they have no worries or work, it’s a medical fact. Research has even shown that children statistically have higher energy levels than endurance athletes

For pure get-up-and-go, caffeine is number one (be it from tea, energy drinks or coffee itself. We’ve got a handy blog post that delves into just how much caffeine is in your latte.) Caffeine is a natural stimulant that is known to increase activity in the brain and nervous system. When consumed, it triggers the release of various neurotransmitters in the brain that can lead to an increase in alertness and focus. 

Additionally, caffeine has been shown to boost levels of cortisol and adrenaline in the body, which can lead to an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Despite its stimulant effects, caffeine can still be consumed safely and in moderation, but excessive consumption of caffeine can lead to negative side effects such as anxiety, restlessness, and even heart palpitations.

How do we define productivity?

We’ve written before about the health benefits that come from having a daily cup of coffee (not to excess, mind. Three triple-shot macchiatos are not going to be good for anyone!), but there is also quite a bit of research that shows that the effect caffeine has on our productivity is so much more than merely a placebo effect. But to answer the much pondered question of “does coffee actually increase productivity,” we first need to think about how we define productivity. Surely it is more than the extra energy needed to get things done? What would you consider a signifier of productivity? Is it merely doing lots of things? Is it doing things with a high degree of finesse and accuracy? Is it the ability to do the actual thing itself (motivation) or is it about not being distracted and able to focus on the task at hand? Caffeine has been shown to help with all of these things, within limits.

How does caffeine actually work?

Before we explore how coffee makes us more productive, we need to think about what happens when it enters the body. First of all, we’ll let you into the biggest secret in the coffee-for-energy industry: caffeine doesn’t give you energy at all! Yes, I know that we literally just spoke about all the wonderful ways that it can boost your mood, work output and focus, but it’s not actually caffeine producing those results: it's you.

Let us explain: 

Caffeine is an extremely talented impresario. Once in your body, it perfectly mimics adenosine, a neurochemical that is created throughout the day by neurons firing and which is a key player in making you feel sleepy.

The nervous system monitors your adenosine levels via receptors, especially the a1 receptors which can be found in your brain and around your body. 

The more adenosine in your system - the more sleepy you feel. Too much adenosine your nervous system detects via the receptors: you fall asleep. 

That is until caffeine enters stage right. Caffeine impersonates adenosine in both shape and size, and passes through the receptors, blocking them up without activating them as they are not actually adenosine. 

As well as effectively switching off the receptors, preventing your nervous system from monitoring adenosine (no sleepy feelings for you!) It also gives your body's home-grown stimulants free reign to do their work. These include the neurotransmitters dopamine and glutamate - both of which work to give you that jolt after downing a slightly stronger than usual espresso. 

So in essence - it is not the caffeine that is stimulating you at all. All it does is block the CCTV that monitors the working of the body's own stimulants. 

It is worth bearing in mind that all of this can also swing the other way: too much can negatively affecting your ability to focus - either immediately  with the jitters, or over a 48 hour period, as coffee too late in the day will lead to poor sleep and will affect your productivity levels the next day and beyond. 

Why doesn't caffeine affect me?

As any regular coffee drinker will attest: over time your tolerance to caffeine, or the effectiveness of it may go down. 

Your personal reaction to coffee is important.

Returning abstainees or new drinkers will generally have a substantial energy boost after their first drink. Someone drinking 3 cups a day for years will not have the same reaction.  

There are many factors that influence how reactive you are to caffeine, both in general and in particular instances: body weight, caffeine sensitivity, hydration levels and if you have eaten recently, as well as how tired you are and what time of day your body thinks it is. Then there are some people who simply have a genetic variation that causes them to metabolise caffeine more quickly, which leads to a reduced response to its effects.

It is important to note, however, that even if you do not feel the effects of caffeine, it is important to not overdo it. Caffeine overdoses can be life threatening and with so many things containing caffeine, it can be easier to reach extreme levels than you would think.

So, does coffee increase productivity?

In a word, yes. The act (or ritual, you might say) of drinking coffee before a task has been shown to improve your productive output, if consumed within moderation.

The caffeine content, as we have already seen, acts as a natural stimulant that affects the central nervous system, increasing both alertness and energy levels. 

But it does more than that. Studies suggest that caffeine improves your short-term memory, for up to 24 hours after consumption, and can also actively improve cognitive function. A 2008 study found that “Caffeine acts as a central stimulant and enhances cognitive and psychomotor functioning, particularly during mental and physical fatigue, through effects that enhance alertness and vigilance.” 

Plus drinking coffee can have long term effects on your brain health: Coffee (not caffeine) has been shown to reduce the risk of cognitive decline, with a 65 % risk reduction for late-life dementia and AD among drinkers of three to five cups of coffee per day during their middle life, compared with nondrinkers. Surely that makes a daily brew or two a no-brainer?

Then there are the results of your work in hyper-focus-mode. Reaction time is one such point that has also come under scrutiny, and has come out as a win: it aids not only with accuracy for inert and moving targets, but can also actively boost muscular reactions in an exercise environment by strengthening muscle contractions.   

So if productivity to you means an enhanced ability to complete tasks efficiently and effectively, then yes, coffee can increase your productivity in a variety of ways, and is probably why it is the most consumed psychoactive drug in the world. Plus, it's delicious too. 

Kids may have an enviably limitless supply of energy, but us grown ups? We have coffee.

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Here at the Coffee Bean Shop, we know the importance of a good cup of coffee. Which is why we only sell beans that we consider to be the very best, freshest speciality coffee beans available in the UK. As well as being meticulously researched and sought out, we roast almost daily (everyone needs a day off - but if we aren’t roasting, then it means the roastery is closed!) ensuring that every bag of beans we sell will go on to produce the best coffee you’ve ever tasted. Don’t believe us? Take a look at our Trustpilot reviews, or give it a try for yourself.

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