I have had just a little over five and a half hours sleep after a busy weekend. It just isn’t enough sleep and upon waking up my head felt like a cannon ball precariously balanced on a broomstick. However, I have made myself a large cup* of coffee as part of an investigation to see whether the caffeine will do anything beneficial for me.
Caffeine is a stimulant found in coffee, tea, chocolate, cola and energy drinks. It is one of the most widely consumed drugs in the world. It is also legal and unregulated. And right now, 5 minutes after first commencing drinking my cup of coffee, I am feeling rather grateful for this.
Caffeine in its purest form is a white crystalline solid. It belongs to a group of chemical compounds known as alkaloids. Alkaloids are naturally produced by many different organisms including bacteria, fungi, animals and plants. Most alkaloids are toxic or don’t taste particularly nice to other organisms. That bitter taste in your coffee is due in part to the caffeine as all alkaloids taste bitter but this bitterness should be matched with the nutty caramel golden overtones and if you’re lucky, chocolate undertones. If not, find another barista.
Caffeine can be found in the beans, leaves and fruit of some plants. Its role is to act as a natural pesticide that paralyzes and kills insects feeding on those plants. Though caffeine in humans has an entirely different effect. When caffeine is taken in a moderate amount, it takes less than an hour for its effects of increasing mental alertness and increasing the ability, (or in some people I know the possibility), of getting up and doing something physical to take place. There’s just one problem though. These effects only last three to four hours at which point you either dose up again on another cup of coffee, bottle of some cola based drink or grab the nearest can of energy drink for your next hit. Perhaps this is why morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea are spaced out in the intervals as they are.
There is one thing that needs to be emphasised. The effects of caffeine vary from person to person. The things that can alter this are things like body size and a person’s tolerance to caffeine. My personal tolerance to caffeine isn’t that high. In fact one latte at breakfast is enough to keep my going well into mid-afternoon. Remember that large cup of coffee I started drinking at the beginning of this? My mind is buzzing and I feel as if my brain is working faster than my physical ability to type. I am making many typos as I sit here. There have been many corrections of spelling and grammar, the ones I have been able to pick up anyway.
One thing that I have discovered while trying to find quirky effects of caffeine to stun you with more so than the spider web constructed by a caffeinated spider is that caffeine can relax the internal anal sphincter muscles in your body. People with fecal incontinence can have their condition worsened by ingesting food and drink with caffeine in them. I hope you weren’t eating or drinking anything while reading that. Thankfully, I’ve finished my very large cup of coffee and my bowel movements are 100% normal. No urges to rush to the toilet, just feeling very alert.
There has been one thing that my large dose of caffeine has not been able to do. It has not been able to remove my desire to sleep. Five and a half hours of sleep is not enough to recover from a busy weekend and to wake up refreshed on a Monday morning.
* The large cup of coffee is actually a ceramic replica of Starbucks Grande size take away coffee cup. It holds 16fl oz which translates to roughly 473 mL in metric. That’s 27mL short of two cups of coffee! Starbucks did NOT sponsor this blog post. I chose this mug as I thought it was a good standard measure of coffee I often see people walking away with from cafes.
The coffee I made this morning consisted of four heaped teaspoons of instant coffee, four heaped teaspoons of sugar, hot water and milk. I was far too tired to handle making coffee from ground coffee beans this morning. I was in no shape to take accurate measurements of volume this morning either.
Lesson: If you’re heading into the lab, have a good night’s rest. I was barely functioning in the kitchen this morning!