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Coffee: The Antagonist

Giant Cup of Coffee


I love a good cup of Joe as much as the next person.  There is no better way to start the day, right? I agree!  Since we’re in the heart of midterms and finals are right around the corner (insert freak-out here), I have noticed that more and more of my students are bringing their coffee with them to class.  Today let’s talk about how coffee interacts with the chemicals in our brains.  Did you know that coffee is an antagonistic drug? Much like in literature, coffee, specifically the caffeine in coffee, makes it difficult for some chemicals to interact as they normally would.  While caffeine is a stimulant, it does so by inhibiting (or antagonizing) other receptors in the wakeful regions of the brain.  Throughout the day, your body produces a neuronal chemical, adenosine, which will accumulate.  As the day ends, with the accumulation of adenosine, you will begin to feel sleepy.  However, when you consume caffeine, it temporarily blocks the adenosine receptors; meaning that the chemical that has accumulated and been circulating throughout the day will have to wait to bind to its receptors to make you sleepy.  Therefore, you are left with a stimulant as a result of inhibition.

Interesting, right? Try thinking about that, the next time you sip your yummy antagonist in class 🙂

For more “free time” reading on the impacts of coffee on the brain check out here and here.


  1. Dawn says:

    So is the only problem late night coffee or is coffee in general a problem?

    • dhawley2013 says:

      Coffee isn’t necessarily a problem (as long as it isn’t chronic….like 5 cups a day). There are actually a lot of positive health benefits gleaned from coffee. However, if you do drink it at night, this is one of the reasons why it is challenging to fall asleep, and you’ll be extra tired the next day because your body’s circadian rhythm will be out of sync.

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