Does coffee help you focus?

Some say caffeine improves your ability to concentrate, but is that actually true? Let's look at the evidence.

A woman posing playfully beside an oversized takeaway coffee cup
 

We all know the feeling. It’s Saturday morning, a day you’ve set aside for study, yet your motivation is minimal. You’re exhausted after a long week and the only thing that can drag you from slumber is a steaming hot cup of coffee.

While you may feel as though your daily cup of joe turns you into the superhero you need to be, it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons.

Let’s explore what the experts have to say about how coffee affects us, particularly as students.

The benefits of coffee for students

Packed with high levels of antioxidants and mind-buzzing nutrients, there are a range of benefits that come with coffee. After all, it’s not one of the world’s most popular beverages for no good reason. For students in particular, many view it as liquid gold.

So, besides the buzz, what are the benefits?

It enhances your short-term memory

Caffeine improves alertness and enhances short-term capabilities so that you can easily learn and absorb new information. This can be helpful during a long study session, allowing you to retain more detail over a short period of time.

In fact, a Johns Hopkins study suggests that drinking a cup of coffee before you hit the books can help you remember information for more than 24 hours.

It increases concentration and focus

When you’re studying at home, you’re often surrounded by distractions that can make it difficult to check things off your to-do list. Coffee is a central nervous system stimulant that can centre your focus and improve your concentration when combing through academic journals or listening to lectures. 

According to research, you reach maximum levels of concentration 45 minutes after having a cup. Interestingly, even decaf coffee is thought to put you in a slightly higher state of alertness.

It improves your mood

The golden child of drinks, coffee can make you feel less blue. One of the many reasons for this is that caffeine causes your body to increase the level of dopamine to your brain, which in turn makes you feel happy.

In a study conducted by Harvard University, people who drank coffee every day were 20% less likely to become depressed. While the university is the first to admit that more work needs to be done to figure out if there truly is a link, it's a hypothesis that's been backed up by other studies too. 

Coffee works differently for different students

Before you start gulping down four cups of coffee a day, it’s important to remember that caffeine affects people differently. While for some it may help with alertness, others may feel that their anxiety increases.

The quantity of caffeine also matters, as some may get the burst of energy they need with one espresso shot, while others may need three or four cups to fully recharge.

If you’re a newbie to coffee culture, consider taking it slow before your next online study session to see how you go. Keep track of your reaction and if you find you’re able to focus better, then consuming caffeine before tackling your next academic task may be an option for you.

Is coffee bad for you?

Once deemed a precursor of heart disease and stunted growth, for years doctors warned people to avoid coffee at all costs.

However, recent studies have found no significant link between coffee and heart-related issues such as high cholesterol, stroke, heart attack or irregular heartbeat. In fact, studies show that the benefits of coffee go beyond concentration and memory.

Beyond the buzz: Further benefits of coffee

Studies have shown that caffeine may:

There’s more to higher achievement than caffeine

If you really want to improve your study habits, you might need more than coffee to achieve results. After all, the effects of caffeine are temporary.

For longer-term success, we suggest making the most of your study plan, eating healthy and exercising regularly.

You’ll also want to prioritise getting a good night’s sleep, which caffeine can hinder. It lingers in your system for about six hours, so it's worth considering when you have your last cup in the afternoon. As with anything in life, moderation is key.

 

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