A New Animation Explains How Caffeine Keeps Us Awake

Let’s pref­ace this by recall­ing that Hon­oré de Balzac drank up to 50 cups of cof­fee a day and lived to the ripe old age of … 51.

Of course, he pro­duced dozens of nov­els, plays, and short sto­ries before tak­ing his leave. Per­haps his caf­feine habit had a lit­tle some­thing to do with that?

Phar­ma­cist Hanan Qasim’s TED-Ed primer on how caf­feine keeps us awake top loads the pos­i­tive effects of the most world’s com­mon­ly used psy­choac­tive sub­stance. Glob­al con­sump­tion is equiv­a­lent to the weight of 14 Eif­fel Tow­ers, mea­sured in drops of cof­fee, soda, choco­late, ener­gy drinks, decaf…and that’s just humans. Insects get theirs from nec­tar, though with them, a lit­tle goes a very long, poten­tial­ly dead­ly way.

Caffeine’s struc­tur­al resem­blance to the neu­ro­trans­mit­ter adeno­sine is what gives it that spe­cial oomph. Adeno­sine caus­es sleepi­ness by plug­ging into neur­al recep­tors in the brain, caus­ing them to fire more slug­gish­ly. Caf­feine takes advan­tage of their sim­i­lar mol­e­c­u­lar struc­tures to slip into these recep­tors, effec­tive­ly steal­ing adenosine’s park­ing space.

With a bioavail­abil­i­ty of 99%, this inter­lop­er arrives ready to par­ty.

On the plus side, caf­feine is both a men­tal and phys­i­cal pick me up.

In appro­pri­ate dos­es, it can keep your mind from wan­der­ing dur­ing a late night study ses­sion.

It lifts the body’s meta­bol­ic rate and boosts per­for­mance dur­ing exercise—an effect that’s eas­i­ly coun­ter­act­ed by get­ting the bulk of your caf­feine from choco­late or sweet­ened soda, or by dump­ing anoth­er Eif­fel Tower’s worth of sug­ar into your cof­fee.

There’s even some evi­dence that mod­er­ate con­sump­tion may reduce the like­li­hood of such dis­eases as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and can­cer.

What to do when that caf­feine effect starts wear­ing off?

Gulp down more!

As with many drugs, pro­longed usage dimin­ish­es the sought-after effects, caus­ing its devo­tees (or addicts, if you like) to seek out high­er dos­es, neg­a­tive side effects be damned. Ner­vous jit­ters, incon­ti­nence, birth defects, raised heart rate and blood pres­sure… it’s a com­pelling case for stick­ing with water.

Ani­ma­tor Draško Ivez­ić (a 3‑lat­te-a-day man, accord­ing to his studio’s web­site) does a hilar­i­ous job of per­son­i­fy­ing both caf­feine and the humans in its thrall, par­tic­u­lar­ly an egg-shaped new father.

Go to TED-Ed to learn more, or test your grasp of caf­feine with a quiz.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Wake Up & Smell the Cof­fee: The New All-in-One Cof­fee-Mak­er/Alarm Clock is Final­ly Here!

Physics & Caf­feine: Stop Motion Film Uses a Cup of Cof­fee to Explain Key Con­cepts in Physics

This is Cof­fee!: A 1961 Trib­ute to Our Favorite Stim­u­lant

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.