Do you start your morning with a delightful cup of coffee?
If so, you might be wondering if there are any additional benefits to your cup of coffee besides a mood-boost and an energy buzz.
In this article, we look at the effects of coffee on your memory and brain health.
TL;DR Article Summary
Caffeine, the main component of coffee, is well known for rapidly boosting focus, alertness, energy, and productivity. However, coffee’s effects on memory aren’t studied as well as its other benefits. What little human evidence we do have shows that caffeine can positively influence your short-term memory, but not long-term memory. In some studies, there were even findings of caffeine impairing memory performance during certain tasks. Each person is different so finding the right dosage of caffeine is important to avoid getting more side effects than benefits.
What is Coffee?
Coffee is a brewed drink made from roasted beans of the Coffea plant, which is native to tropics. For centuries, coffee has been prized for its stimulating effects, which come from its main active ingredient – caffeine.
By nature, caffeine is a stimulant. It interacts with your central nervous system (CNS) to ward off sleepiness and keep you alert. Beyond making you more awake, caffeine affects other aspects of health, such as bile flow, cognitive functions, and stress hormones.
But how does this tie into memory and other functions of the brain?
Memory and Caffeine: The Science
Memory is a basic and vital cognitive process that we can categorise into two parts: short-term (working) memory and long-term memory.
Working memory helps you temporarily store information while you perform other tasks, whereas long-term memory is responsible for storing information for extended periods, even a lifetime.
The majority of evidence shows positive effects of caffeine on memory. Research papers suggest that caffeine helps benefit short-term memory specifically.  According to studies, caffeine can help reduce your reaction time, which is thought to be the result of improved information coding in the brain. Coffee might be more effective at improving memory functions in older folks than in younger people, but this is still not researched enough to make any conclusions.
However, there are also studies showing a contrasting view. In some cases, caffeine seems to have a negative effect on memory function. But these studies are in the minority.
And then there are those “in-between” studies which found no strong link between caffeine intake and memory performance.
The Complex Interactions between Caffeine and Cognition
With the aforementioned studies in mind, it’s clear that the relationship between caffeine and memory function is complex, with mostly positive effects but also rare negative effects. Your age, lifestyle, and how much caffeine you consume per day all play a role in how you’ll react to it.
Most studies give us a positive correlation between caffeine intake and memory performance.  However, recent research indicates potential negative impacts. There are also studies that found no significant links between caffeine and memory.
In addition to memory, caffeine also interacts with other cognitive parameters such as your attention, alertness, and psychomotor speed.
The Limitations and Potential Downsides of Coffee Consumption
Like any good thing, it’s possible to have too much coffee. High levels of caffeine can lead to restlessness, insomnia, and increased heart rate, among other symptoms. Some people might also experience increased anxiety levels with excessive coffee consumption, which could, in turn, negatively impact memory and cognitive function.
What’s more, there’s still much we don’t know about the long-term effects of coffee consumption on memory. While short-term studies hint at potential benefits, we need more comprehensive, longitudinal studies to understand the full scope of coffee’s impact on memory health over a lifetime.
Anything Else to Consider?
Even with the potential memory benefits from coffee, there is no single food or drink that can magically boost your cognition or memory. Maintaining a healthy memory depends on a combination of things like your diet, physical activity, sleep quality, and mental stimulation to name a few.
In moderation, coffee can be a part of a healthy lifestyle and potentially enhance your memory. If you want the best results, though, you’ll want to combine it with proven nootropics and memory enhancers such as CDP-Choline and Pine Bark Extract, among others.
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- Fiani B, Zhu L, Musch BL, Briceno S, Andel R, Sadeq N, Ansari AZ. The Neurophysiology of Caffeine as a Central Nervous System Stimulant and the Resultant Effects on Cognitive Function. Cureus. 2021 May 14;13(5):e15032. doi: 10.7759/cureus.15032. PMID: 34150383; PMCID: PMC8202818.
- Sherman SM, Buckley TP, Baena E, Ryan L. Caffeine Enhances Memory Performance in Young Adults during Their Non-optimal Time of Day. Front Psychol. 2016 Nov 14;7:1764. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01764. PMID: 27895607; PMCID: PMC5107567.