We all know someone who worships the magic of caffeine—you might even be that person. True devotees love the soothing buzz that comes with savoring a piping hot latte, or the boost of energy black tea can give you. Unfortunately, caffeine tends to have a bad reputation, so we think of it as an indulgence.
As with anything in life, caffeine should be used in moderation, and it isn't right for everyone. But many people will be shocked to find out that their commonly held beliefs are actually untrue. Here are a few of the many caffeine misconceptions that exist and the real story behind the fallacies:
1. Caffeine is highly addictive.
Your well-worn Starbucks Gold Card may suggest otherwise, but coffee and other caffeinated drinks aren’t addictive. Aside from the temporary headaches and irritability of abrupt caffeine withdrawal, the effects are mild compared to alcohol and drug dependency, and they last only about a day or two. And while there are plenty of people who get grouchy without their morning cup of joe, experts don’t consider caffeine to be addictive, because caffeine withdrawal isn’t a threat to a person’s physical or social well-being.
2. Caffeine dehydrates the drinker.
While it is true that caffeine has a moderate diuretic effect, the amount of water in your coffee or tea outweighs any dehydrating effect of caffeine. In fact, consuming caffeinated beverages actually contributes to the total amount of daily fluid your body requires to function properly. It has even been suggested that regular coffee drinkers may become tolerant over time to any diuretic effect of caffeine, although it should still be noted that water remains the best way to stay adequately hydrated.
3. Never drink caffeine before a nap.
Drinking coffee or another caffeinated beverage before a short nap can actually help ensure that you awaken more alert than only taking a nap or opting for a jolt of caffeine by itself—if you time it right. "While your brain is awake, it is continuously producing a substance called adenosine," explains Dr. Sujay Kansagra, director of Duke University’s sleep medicine program and sleep health consultant from Mattress Firm. When caffeine meets adenosine, an eye-opening reaction happens: Caffeine’s alertness boost peaks around 30 minutes after it’s consumed. By sleeping for 20 of those 30 minutes, the amount of adenosine the caffeine competes with is reduced, so the stimulant provides a bit of a boost right when you wake up.
4. Caffeine can counteract alcohol.
We’ve all seen the movies where someone tries to sober up a drunk quickly with a pot of coffee, but it’s just a cinematic myth. Reaction time and judgment are just as impaired as they were before, with the added danger of the inebriated person thinking the coffee has sharpened them. Some evidence has even suggested that college-age students who drank both caffeine and alcohol were more likely to be involved in car accidents. Basically, adding a stimulant (caffeine) to a depressant (alcohol) can have disastrous consequences.
5. Caffeine is bad for your health.
This fact is probably most surprising since caffeine has been used as a scapegoat for many ailments. But caffeine does have quite a few health benefits: Participants in a Johns Hopkins study experienced a boost in memory after consuming caffeine, with the effects lasting up to 24 hours. Research from the University of Southampton and University of Edinburgh found that drinking two cups of coffee a day lowers your risk of liver cancer by a third. Harvard researchers found that four or five cups of coffee per day reduced the risk of Parkinson’s disease. Consuming caffeine before working out can reduce inflammation in runners and increase muscle torque during strength training.
6. Caffeine causes insomnia.
Your body absorbs caffeine quickly, but it also expels it nearly as fast: within five to seven hours, 50 percent of it is gone from your system and 75 percent is gone after 10 hours. Drinking coffee later in the day can keep you up, but if you down your afternoon latte at least six hours before bedtime, you should sleep just fine. Keep in mind, however, that everyone is different, so some people may be more sensitive to caffeine’s effects than others.
On the surface, caffeine can come across as just another stimulant. But dig deeper and you’ll discover this psychoactive drug actually has some very real benefits. According to V. Wendy Setiawan, associate professor at the Keck School of Medicine, the high levels of antioxidants and other compounds in coffee "have been related to better insulin sensitivity, liver function, and reduced chronic inflammation." Further, when used correctly, caffeine can be a useful supplement, helping to improve memory and fitness and even reducing heart disease and stroke risks. Best of all, caffeine comes in many different forms, so you have endless choices on how to enjoy its perks.