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Is caffeine driving your creativity?

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How many of you kick-start your mornings with an injection of caffeine?

Most of us feel like we couldn’t handle working life without it. People like myself who work in creative environments tend to drink a whole lot of coffee, but is it actually helping or impairing our creative ability?

To be creative you need to let your mind wander, to be able to come up with new ideas and solutions. Sometimes the best ideas come when we’re at our most relaxed and not even thinking about the problem at hand.

However, once our minds have thought of new ideas and need to execute them, coffee can be what’s needed to focus on them and make them happen. So, in this sense, it’s pretty important stuff.

I have measured my life out with coffee spoons

                  T.S. Eliot 

 

A Harvard study showed around 65% of Americans drink a cup of coffee with their breakfast, thinking that it’s the best way to wake up.

However, between 8-9am, 12-1pm and 5.30-6.30pm your body’s production of cortisol peaks, which means you’re naturally feeling more alert anyway. So, for the maximum benefit, it’s best to drink your coffee outside those times (and definitely after you’ve done a bit of creative thinking first).  

One of the reasons we’re so in love with caffeine is something called adenosine.

Adenosine is the chemical your brain produces throughout the day that helps you to become drowsy. When you sleep your brain gets rid of the adenosine, so if you don’t get a good sleep it’ll still be there causing you to feel drowsy the following day. A few days without a proper kip and you’ll have an unbearable build-up of adenosine that’ll fill you with an irresistible urge to curl up and sleep under your desk.

However, when you drink coffee you halt the adenosine from infiltrating your whole body and instead you’ll feel the effects of the caffeine.

You can also build on coffee’s positive effects by combining it with certain foods.

Researchers from the University of Barcelona found that drinking coffee alongside glucose improves “cognitive performance in terms of sustained attention and working memory”. That should, in theory, mean you can remember more, solve problems more quickly and be able to focus on things better throughout the day.

Caffeine also reduces inflammation, which explains why so many cold and flu remedies contain it. And drinking it every day can help to stave off the development of Type 2 diabetes. It’s also an antioxidant, meaning it gets rid of harmful free radicals that can attack our cells – so you can spend more time flexing those creative muscles.

Now, we’re not advocating that you should drink cups after cup of coffee every day - too much caffeine can certainly be a bad thing. 400mg is the recommended maximum amount of caffeine you should consume per day (a grande Starbucks latte contains 150mg) so if you have more than a couple of lattes a day, you could be going over the healthy limit.

Signs that you’ve had a bit too much include jitters, as your central nervous system becomes over stimulated, as well as an increased heart rate, irritability and even angry outbursts. And if you suffer from anxiety already, you’re probably better to steer well clear as caffeine can send you into a fight-or-flight frenzy (although tolerance should build up over time).

If you find you sometimes have a bit too much then switching to decaf can help. But be warned, contrary to the name it does actually still contain some caffeine, so don’t overdo it!