Coffee: The Working Man's Drug

It seems that the fuel that drives business these days is coffee. While some go without, it is rare to see a desk without a coffee cup. Throughout the day coffee makers start brewing and a constant stream of individuals are headed off to refill their tank as it were. Why is that though? What is it, especially about the work day, that makes coffee so key. And, with so many people throughout the world using coffee throughout their day, just what is it doing to us that makes it work so well? Obviously, it wakes us up and that leads to more productivity at work, but is that a mental thing - a placebo of some sort - or is there real science behind what is happening. Finally, what are the drawbacks to coffee and is it dangerous? After all, this is a legal drug that is used to keep people throughout the business world firing on all cylinders every day. The science is pretty surprising and shows that this is just the right drug for the work place.

The Science-y Bit

You wake and accumulate adenosine that attaches to receptors in your brain. This gives you that “tired” feeling and throughout the day increases fatigue. While you are awake, initially at least, you start to reduce the amount of adenosine which helps you stay awake. Caffeine is very similar in make-up to adenosine and competes to replace the adenosine and keep you from feeling tired. Your brain reacts to this and creates new adenosine receptors, which in turn, forces you to take in more caffeine to stay at the same level of “awareness”. What does that mean for your day to day working life though?

In the morning you likely have your cup, need another and go for one more later in the day. This is primarily due to the fact that you are building up a resistance to the caffeine. While you can get through a day of work on just a cup or two, you will likely find that you require more and more over time. It is rare that an office doesn’t have a coffee maker running around the clock. The best advice is to drink a cup shortly before you really need that big energy boost. You will have to learn, over time, how much you need to get that boost.

Caffeine also increases adrenaline which increases heart rate, dopamine levels (which makes you feel happy), opens your air ways and keeps your blood flowing. This all helps with your energy and is extremely beneficial to your mood. Again, the biggest problem is that more and more is required because you build up a “tolerance” as new receptors are created.

Can It Kill You?

To avoid burying the lead, in short, no – coffee cannot kill you. You would need 150mg of caffeine per kg to die from it. If you weigh 70 kg, you would need 14,000mg or caffeine to kill you. At an average of 150mg per cup of coffee, you would need to drink around 70 cups of coffee. You would also have to take all of them at once, and no stomach could hold all of that at coffee at the same time.

When is the best time to actually drink a cup though? Generally, you will want to have at least one cup shortly before you are going to need an energy boost. Before a meeting or at the start of a large project you will likely get the most benefit. Caffeine has a half-life of 6 hours. That means 6 hours after drinking a cup, you will be left with around 75mg and 6 hours later you will only have 37.5mg in your body. That is generally why we drink multiple cups of coffee throughout the day. The reduction is very fast.

So if you get to the office at 8 am and have a cup of coffee, when you are set to do a project or have a meeting at 11 am, you are likely not getting the full benefit of the caffeine. Throughout a day off, drink it as you like, but for work, you will want to make sure you “top off” about 30 minutes before you will need that big boost of energy.

As previously discussed you naturally build up a resistance to coffee, especially if you drink it as much as I do, so you will need to learn how much it takes to give you the boost similar to that first cup you had when you were younger. Be careful with the amount you take in though, as it can over excite you and there is nothing worse than the jitters during a presentation. As previously mentioned, it would be impossible to overdose on caffeine just from drinking coffee, but you can get too much. A good balance of coffee and a hearty breakfast can make the first part of your day that much more productive. A bowl of cereal or some oatmeal and a few cups of coffee throughout the start of your working day should get you through most of your day with the energy you need to perform at your best.

Although coffee certainly has its bad points it is not without its pluses. It is up to you whether or not you want to start, or continue taking the drug of choice for workers everywhere.


Image Via: RedOrbit




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