Caffeine is a huge part of our daily lives. Across the world, different cultures have found their preferred caffeinated drinks. In America, the drink of choice is coffee. And, even just a cursory examination of the literature printed on mugs in office buildings across our fair country will show you how important this beverage is to us: But First Coffee, I Only Need Coffee on Days Ending in “Y,” Today’s Good Mood is Sponsored by Coffee.
But it’s something that is so much a part of our daily lives that we rarely consider how it does what it does. Well, wonder no more: Here is the story of how caffeine works.
Does Coffee Give You Energy?
Caffeine doesn’t actually give you energy; it just temporarily prevents your body from feeling tired. If you think about the brain as a car, caffeine can’t hit the gas, but it does hamper your ability to use the brakes. In other words, vroom-vroom.
Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the chemical compound that provides all living things with energy. When ATP is utilized by the human body, adenosine is liberated. Your body monitors adenosine to determine sleep-wake cycles. Throughout the day, adenosine accumulates, binding to adenosine receptors and signaling to your body when it’s time to rest. When enough adenosine is detected by these receptors, you begin to feel the telltale signs of sleepiness.
How Coffee Makes You Feel So Alert
Caffeine has a similar chemical makeup to adenosine. In fact, caffeine’s impersonation is so good that it is able to bind to adenosine receptors without activating them, blocking the actual adenosine. This, in effect, staves off that sleepy feeling for four to six hours. But wait, there’s more!
Some adenosine receptors are also connected to dopamine receptors. Dopamine is a chemical in your brain that is responsible for regulating emotions, movement and your sensations of pain and pleasure. When adenosine binds to these connected receptors, it prevents dopamine from binding to the accompanying dopamine receptors. But when caffeine binds to the adenosine receptors, dopamine is allowed to run wild, increasing your sense of pleasure.
When adenosine is unable to bind to its receptors, the levels of adenosine in the bloodstream increases, leading the body to release adrenaline. This causes your heart rate to increase, your airways to open up, your pupils to dilate and your muscles to contract. It also contributes to the feeling of “amped up-ness.”