Mental Alertness
Can Coffee Really Help?

Mental Alertness over long periods of time being aided by coffee consumption is something any college student pulling an all-niter can attest to. But people have wondered for years if this is indeed truly the case and if it is safe for the health of the coffee drinker. Recently, multiple studies have been conducted on this issue to try to determine how coffee affects mental awareness and overall health.

A recent study conducted by the Division of Sleep Medicine at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, investigated the effectiveness of caffeine in aiding mental alertness when the patient was kept awake for long periods of time.

This study involved the patients frequently taking a low dose of caffeine (similar to the contents of a cup of coffee). The patients were studied for a period of 29 days. They were kept awake for over 42 hours at a time, and then allowed to sleep as necessary. The patients studied were healthy men between 18 and 30 years of age with no sleeping issues.

This study found that the caffeine did indeed cause a marked difference in the mentally alert status of the patients during their waking periods. In addition, the patients were able to stay completely awake for longer periods of time. However, the patients did have slightly increased difficulty in falling asleep once their time to do so arrived. The study therefore concluded that taking low doses of caffeine over a prolonged period of time was helpful in increasing mental alertness when one needs to be awake for a considerable amount of time.

The Health Psychology Research Unit of the School of Psychology at the University of Wales, College of Cardiff in the United Kingdom examined the effects of breakfast and caffeine on being mentally alert and cardiovascular health in the late morning and after lunch. The patients were tested at 7:45 am and then given breakfast and coffee. An additional cup of coffee was given at 11:15 am. The patients were then tested again both before and after lunch. The study found that the coffee improved the patients’ mental alertness and ability to perform a task over a prolonged period of time in addition to improving their mood and overall feeling of well-being.

When the Cardiff University Centre for Occupational and Health Psychology located in the United Kingdom looked at the effects of caffeine on behavior, cardiovascular health, and overall mental alertness. They wanted to see if the health benefits that are attributed to caffeine are really due to the caffeine itself, or instead a form of adrenaline. The patients were given both the caffeine equivalent to a standard cup of coffee and a synthetic adrenaline substitute. The coffee was found to raise blood pressure while the adrenaline substitute lowered blood pressure. The study directors determined that this counteraction is the reason that caffeine positively affects the cardiovascular health in people who drank coffee when they’re not fully awake.

And finally, a study performed at the University of Amsterdam in The Netherlands looked at how moderate amounts of caffeine affected brain function and overall mental awareness. The study found that the caffeine did improve the brain function without negatively affecting non-related portions of the brain and the patients’ health.

Overall, the study found that drinking a few cups of coffee is beneficial towards the portions of the brain that affect mental alertness and ability to prevent negative actions. These studies have all proven the benefits of coffee in improving mental alertness. Many of these same studies have actually shown that coffee can be beneficial to the health of the coffee drinker who’s otherwise been kept from sleeping for a prolonged period of time.

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