Caffeine is a natural stimulant found in different plant sources, including coffee, tea, and cacao.
Most people start their day with some form of caffeine as it’s one of the most effective stimulants we know. It increases the activity of your central nervous system (CNS) and blocks your adenosine receptors – resulting in increased focus, mental awareness, and energy.
There are many speculations on how caffeine was first discovered. Some say that a Moroccan mystic named Gothul Akbar Nooruddin Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhil first found it while on his way to Ethiopia.
During his travels, Gothul reportedly noticed birds of unusual energy and vigor eating berries. He decided to try the berries for himself, after which he experienced the same effects.
Fast forward to the late 1800s, caffeinated drinks started entering the mainstream, followed by energy drinks.
Ask almost anyone today, and they’ll tell you they consume caffeine in one form or another. Around 90 percent of North Americans drink coffee, tea, or another caffeinated beverage every day.
But using caffeine daily leads to tolerance, which, in turn, diminishes some of its effects.
- Can raise the metabolic rate
- Improves physical and athletic performance
- Boosts energy levels
- Can stimulate fat ‘browning’
- May support liver health
- Promotes wakefulness
- Enhances feelings of euphoria and well-being
- Increases motivation
- Boosts focus
- Reduces reaction time, improves recall speed & memory
How Does Caffeine Work?
Although caffeine can increase power output, boost endurance and offer many other physical benefits, here we’re going to focus on how caffeine works as a nootropic – aka, in the brain.
1. Stimulates the Central Nervous System (CNS)
Caffeine works as an adenosine receptor antagonist, influencing serotonin, dopamine, acetylcholine and epinephrine along the way. With these bioactivities combined, caffeine provides its well-known stimulatory effect.
Sure, these things may sound cool… but what do they actually mean?
Let’s start with adenosine first. Adenosine is a chemical that makes you sleepy.
By binding to adenosine receptors instead of adenosine itself, caffeine has the opposite effect – promoting wakefulness.
In one sleep lab study which lasted 13 nights, 18 healthy young adults were recruited to see the effects of coffee on their sleep.
The researchers found evidence that caffeine shifts REM sleep (rapid eye movement sleep during which you’re paralyzed, usually occurs deep at night) to the earlier parts of the sleep, as well as shift stages 3 and 4 sleep to the later parts of the sleep cycle.
What does this mean? It means, you can use caffeine to induce symptoms of insomnia. Which can be especially useful during studying, late-night work shifts, or other scenarios where you need to stay alert and awake.
2. Increases Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)
Caffeine is a neuroprotectant. Caffeine’s protective effect stems from its ability to boost gene expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or simply BDNF.
BDNF is a protein that stimulates the growth of new cells in your brain. Especially in an area of the brain called the hippocampus, which regulates your memory, mood and many other mental processes.
Because of its effects on BDNF, chronic caffeine consumption has been suggested to protect against some neurodegenerative diseases.
Not only does caffeine potentially offer long-term brain protection, it also enhances the consolidation of long-term memory. And also offers a short-term memory boost immediately after consumption.
This effect of caffeine is especially relevant if you’re looking for supplements for study. Because, caffeine consumed after studying can greatly enhance information retention.
3. Potentiates Dopamine, Serotonin and GABA Brain Activity
Caffeine is a natural mood enhancer. It perks you up and helps alleviate the blues, in part by increasing the density of your GABA receptors, as well as potentiating serotonin and dopamine levels in your brain.
After crossing the blood-brain barrier, caffeine’s first effect is the increase in alertness. The subsequent boost in dopamine levels is what gives you the pleasant feeling of that first morning cup of coffee.
Many people who consume caffeine find it makes them more productive. You should be able to concentrate and get things done more easily.
However, taking caffeine too late in the day can suppress melatonin production, which is the brain’s sleep hormone.
Also, if you’re consuming caffeine on a daily basis, then you’ve likely developed a tolerance and will need to slowly wean off of it instead of quitting cold turkey as caffeine’s withdrawal symptoms include irritability, lack of concentration, and low mood.
Caffeine as a Nootropic – What do Studies Say?
Study #1: Caffeine Improves Cognitive Function
In this study, 68 U.S. Navy Seal trainees were randomly split into 4 groups, taking either:
- 100mg caffeine
- 200mg caffeine
They took this after 72 hours of sleep deprivation and constant exposure to other stressors. They were tested for mood, reaction time, visual vigilance, and working memory.
The lead researcher, Harris Lieberman, analyzed and commented on the results. He said that caffeine can improve cognitive function and mental well-being even in the most adverse situations.
What’s more, the study found that 200mg of caffeine appears to be the optimal dose under conditions of severe stress, when cognitive performance is crucial and needs to be maintained.
Study #2: Caffeine Boosts Recall and Memory Retention
In this study, 60 undergrad students from the University of Arizona were split into two groups. One group drank an 8-oz cup of coffee, and the other group drank the same amount, but decaf coffee (as the placebo) in the early morning.
Afterwards, the study researchers instructed the participants to read a book for 30 minutes. Those who drank the caffeinated coffee ended up performing much better mentally than a placebo – showing a 30% improvement in memory.
However, when the researchers did the same test with 43 students between 2 and 4 PM, they didn’t find any improvements in memory.
So, what does this study tell us? According to the study authors, caffeine has a memory-boosting effect during students’ non-ideal hours for studying – early morning.
However, another study found that adults who “considered themselves a morning type” don’t experience a dip in mental performance in the afternoon, thanks to coffee.
On the other hand, those who’re morning type but don’t drink coffee tend to experience a loss in brainpower during afternoon hours.
Study #3: Caffeine Helps With Symptoms of Depression
Recent academic studies suggest that caffeine enhances the effects of antidepressants in animals.
In a quest to find out if the same applies to humans, Chinese researchers recruited 95 male patients currently taking antidepressants. They were given either 60mg, 100mg of caffeine, or a placebo every day for a month.
The result? They found that low-dose caffeine improves cognition in depressed individuals. The researchers concluded that caffeine may help reverse symptoms of depression, as well as enhance the antidepressant effect on major depressive disorder.
Study #4: Caffeine May Help Reduce the Risk of Suicide
Carrying over from the previous study, research from the Harvard School of Public Health reports that several cups of coffee daily can reduce the risk of suicide by about 50 percent.
Study authors reviewed data from 3 large-case trials and found that the risk of suicide in adults who drank 2-4 cups of coffee per day was about 50% lower than those who drank decaf coffee or no coffee.
Scientists suggest the reason why this might be the case is due to caffeine’s ability to stimulate the CNS and boost the release of dopamine, serotonin, and epinephrine – your brain’s feel-good chemicals.
Caffeine Side Effects – Is it Safe?
Even though it’s extremely popular and well-accepted in our society, caffeine can be a profoundly toxic and deadly substance.
You know that saying, “the dose makes the poison.” Well, this applies to caffeine too.
As long as you read the labels on caffeinated beverages and not go above the maximum allowed daily dose for caffeine (400mg), you should be fine. Reports of caffeine overdose are fairly rare.
But, there have been cases of doses as low as 200mg to be toxic to sensitive people.
Side effects of taking too much caffeine include:
- Feeling ‘twitchy’
- Trouble breathing
- Increased urination and/or thirst
- Rapid heartbeat
Also, be aware that caffeine is very addictive. You not only quickly build a tolerance to its energizing effects, but also get withdrawal effects when you stop taking it.
Caffeine withdrawal is no laughing matter and can include fatigue, irritability, digestive issues, anxiety, and difficulty focusing on otherwise simple tasks.
As always, speak with your doctor before thinking about combining caffeine with any medications. You also should get a go-ahead from your MD before taking caffeine if you have any sort of health condition.
Caffeine Nootropic Dose – How Much to Take?
According to Mayo Clinic, 400mg of caffeine per day is a safe dose for most healthy adults. This is 1 and a half Starbucks “tall” coffee cups.
For those aged 12-18, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends not consuming more than 100mg of caffeine per day.
Keep in mind that it’s very easy to go above the recommended daily caffeine intake. Because, caffeine is found in many drinks – from sodas, teas, energy drinks, and even sparkling soft drinks like Coca Cola.
Just one Starbucks tall coffee cup contains around 235mg of caffeine. Therefore, it’s very easy to exceed your personal caffeine tolerance and start to experience caffeine side effects.
Caffeine Nootropic Stack
The best nootropics to combine with caffeine include:
Below, I’ll explain what each stack is good for in more depth!
Caffeine + L-Theanine Stack
One of the simplest and most popular nootropic stacks is L-Theanine and caffeine together.
A study from the Netherlands recruited 49 people to assess the effects of caffeine, L-Theanine, and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) (commonly found in green tea) on mental performance and well-being.
The study found that just 40mg of caffeine can boost performance on long-range mental tasks, vigor, alertness, and arousal.
What’s more, the researchers found evidence that 200mg of L-Theanine improves calmness and reduces tension.
And when they combined caffeine and L-Theanine together, the volunteers experienced a significant boost in alertness and attention-switching ability. The effect was stronger than with caffeine alone!
The study also found that L-Theanine helped smoothen some of caffeine’s negative side effects, such as tension and ‘jitters’.
- The best pre-formulated caffeine + L-Theanine nootropic stack I’ve used, and still use is Performance Lab Stim.
Featuring 50mg of Natural Caffeine from Coffee Robusta seeds, 100mg of Suntheanine® L-Theanine, and 250mg of L-Tyrosine, as well as a balanced NutriGenesis® B Complex. This combination results in increased alertness, enhanced mood, better ability to deal with stress – but without the ugly ‘crash’. This is an extremely clean product that I recommend to anyone who wants to get the most out of caffeine.
Learn more by clicking here.
Caffeine + L-Tyrosine Stack
Taking caffeine and L-Tyrosine together is a great way to keep yourself energized, productive, and awake, without crashing later on.
It’s well-known that caffeine can make you feel over-energized to the point where you’re too ‘twitchy’.
What if you could make caffeine’s positive effects last longer, while making its negative side effects go away? Well, that’s exactly what L-Tyrosine can help with!
Adding L-Tyrosine to your cup of coffee can help stabilize your mood and give you a much cleaner, longer-lasting focus. This is why it’s one of the best focus supplements out there.
L-Tyrosine is also known for promoting cognitive flexibility and keeping you calm under pressure. It may even help reduce depressive symptoms spurring from low brain dopamine levels.
Instead of feeling wrung out and shaken up after drinking 3, 4 or more cups of coffee, you’ll have a cleaner, more stable effect any time of day.
Available Forms of Caffeine
You get caffeine from many different sources including teas, coffee, energy shots or drinks, cola, yerba mate, chocolate, and even some weight loss and stimulant supplements.
You’ll also find caffeine in some nootropic supplements. Always watch out for the dose! Many supplements use high amounts of caffeine to make it look like it works, while the rest of the formula is ineffective at doing its job.
Currently, my favorite caffeine ‘nootropic’ is Performance Lab Stim, which I’ve mentioned above.
Conclusion on Caffeine as a Nootropic
So that concludes our caffeine nootropic info and review! Looking at Reddit and online forums, you’ll see tons of people recommend caffeine as a nootropic and brain-boosting supplement!
We definitely think it’s a good choice to have this in your supplement stack, as long as you’re a healthy person. Otherwise, talk to your doctor before ingesting this compound if you’re new to it!
Caffeine can be particularly good for boosting your study sessions, or giving you energy and focus for work projects. It helps consolidate memory of what you learned.
It can also be a good weight loss aid and performance booster in athletes. Because it boosts reaction time, improves focus, enhances alertness, and delays time to fatigue during exercise.
And, let’s not forget caffeine’s mood-boosting effects.
However, you quickly build a tolerance to the drug, so it’s smart to dose it when you need it the most. Instead of taking it every day like most people do!