Everyone needs a little bit more energy in their lives. That’s why caffeine, which is in everything from coffees, teas, sodas, and energy drinks, is the most popular drug in the world. So what does caffeine do exactly?
Caffeine does many things to the body but we will briefly look into the two main ways caffeine helps you feel alert. One way caffeine makes you more alert is by blocking signals to the brain that say you need sleep. Every hour that we stay awake, adenosine molecules are generated as a consequence of the normal functioning of cells. Adenosine levels are significantly increased when there is a lack of oxygen in cells or during intense exercise.
Our brain has receptors that adenosine molecules plug-in to, causing drowsiness. Sleeping will allow our bodies to recycle the adenosine molecules for use in other functions. As you can see in the image above, caffeine looks and feels so similar to adenosine molecules, it can fit snugly into the adenosine receptors in the brain.
Caffeine molecules take position in the adenosine receptors so that adenosine molecules cannot bind to them. This gives the illusion that you are not sleepy. Basically, even though everything in your body is sending out signals saying you need sleep, your brain is not receiving these signals. Caffeine is a temporary solution to a chronic problem.
The other way that caffeine helps you become alert is by stimulating the central nervous system. Normally, when a nerve wants to signal to another nerve, it releases neurotransmitters (signal molecules) called Acetylcholine.
As shown in the picture above, neurotransmitters are released into the synapse, the area between the two nerve cells. There is an enzyme present in the synapse that recycles neurotransmitters called acetylcholinesterase. Acetylcholinesterase makes sure to clear the synapse of signal molecules so the receiving neuron isn’t stimulated longer than it should. Caffeine blocks the function of acetylcholinesterase temporarily, resulting in more frequent stimulation of nerve cells. This is why if you drink too much coffee, you experience a twitching or jittery feeling.
Because caffeine is a drug that activates only specific processes in the body, it leads to side effects. It is always good to get enough rest every night. You may want to check out our blog on how to get good rest and wake up refreshed.
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