Why does coffee keep us awake?

Scientists have revealed how coffee acts to keep us awake
Scientists have revealed how coffee acts to keep us awake

For many of us, coffee is a magic potion that stimulates, energises and increases our concentration. Whole offices run almost entirely on coffee, and how many times have you heard someone say they can’t get going in the morning without their caffeine fix? Now, new research, reported in the Daily Mail, reveals how coffee keeps us awake.

If you’re a coffee drinker, you’ll know there are ‘right’ times to day to grab a cup. First thing in the morning or to combat a post-lunch energy slump are favourite times, while the experienced caffeine aficionado avoids coffee after 6pm. The new research claims that coffee can produce a similar effect to jetlag, fooling the body into thinking it’s about an hour further west that it really is and putting it into a different time zone. This is why drinking coffee in the evenings can make it harder to get to sleep, and having a caffeine fix first thing in the morning can make you feel wider awake.

In addition to backing up the widely-held view that coffee should be avoided in the evening, the research could also be used to actually treat jetlag. During the study, a group of volunteers lived in rooms without access to natural light or clocks, and were given a mixture of caffeine pills and placebos before going to bed. Scientists also controlled the amount of light exposure each evening, which is known to have an effect on jetlag. The group’s saliva was tested for the presence of the hormone melatonin, levels of which peak in the evening producing a sleepy feeling.

Researchers found when volunteers took a caffeine pill and had dim lighting in their rooms it delayed the rise of melatonin levels, stimulating wakefulness. They intend to use the information to understand more about how the body clock works and how to combat jetlag. In the meantime, stick to coffee first thing in the morning or at least before 6pm to benefit from the stimulating effects.

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