I recently stopped drinking coffee. Yeah, I know, why would anybody do that? For me it was a combination of health-related reasons, and overall I can say I’m happy I did. If you had asked me a few days after I kicked it, though, I would have told you it was one of the dumbest things I ever even thought of doing — that is, if my head stopped pounding long enough to answer you in a complete sentence.
This radical life adjustment made me curious about caffeine and its effects on the brain, so I did some research. The most surprising thing I found was that caffeine doesn’t really jack up the volume in our brain the way most of us think it does — the story about how our favorite drug works isn't nearly so straightforward.
First, what caffeine does not do.
Caffeine does not, by itself, make you a super productive, super fast, super talky jitter machine. That venti Café Americano is not the sole reason you’re able to cram six hours of work into 45 minutes, or that you’re shockingly charming between the hours of 8-11 a.m.
What caffeine does do is one heck of an impersonation. In your brain, caffeine is the quintessential mimic of a neurochemical called adenosine. Adenosine is produced by neurons throughout the day as they fire, and as more of it is produced, the more your nervous system ratchets down.