What’s the Best Thing to Do After Drinking Coffee?

Health and medicine explained.
Aug. 22 2014 12:01 PM

What Should You Do After Drinking Coffee?

How to get the most bang from your brew.

Couple enjoying a cup of coffee.
Should they now nap, have sex, or write a novel?

Photo by monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Thinkstock

You’re almost done drinking that cup of coffee. Now what?

Kevin Roose at Matter follows his cup of joe with a morning run; the coffee, he writes, allows him to “run longer and feel more energized.” He’s not the only one. Health magazine reported on research showing that coffee before a workout improves circulation, lessens pain, improves memory for exercises and routines, and preserves and fuels muscles. And Shape proclaimed that drinking coffee before a workout gives a mental edge and helps burn more fat.

All right, that’s settled. You can finish that cup and work out.

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Unless you’d rather nap.

Yes, nap. Coffee clears the body of chemical called adenosine. Levels of this compound rise while you’re awake; when enough accumulates, it helps tell your brain to go to sleep. The chemical is then broken down while you sleep. Coffee reduces adenosine in the brain, a process that takes about 20 minutes, so coffee followed by a 15-minute nap may maximize alertness. In one study, researchers put sleep-deprived test subjects in driving simulators and found that “caffeine naps” more effectively improved driving performance than cold air, a short break, a nap with no caffeine, or caffeine with no nap.

OK, so. Finish that cup and workout or nap.

Unless you’d rather have sex (partner permitting).

In 2011, researchers discovered that caffeinated female rats were more likely than their drowsy counterparts to seek out sex, which led them (the researchers, not the rats) to conclude that caffeine may make females want to have sex.

It’s decided. Finish that cup and workout or nap or have sex.

Unless you’d rather release your inner artiste.

As Mason Currey, author of Daily Rituals: How Artists Work wrote for Slate last year, coffee, which “aids focus and attention, wards off sleepiness, and speeds the refresh rate on new ideas,” was copiously consumed by “Beethoven and Proust, Glenn Gould and Francis Bacon, Jean-Paul Sartre and Gustav Mahler,” and many more for its creativity-enhancing properties.

All clear. Finish that cup and workout or nap or have sex or release your inner artiste.

Unless you’re off to take a test.

A study published in Nutrition Journal in 2007 found that caffeinated drinks (coffee and other energy drinks) increase alertness and improve memory. And according to the Journal of Agriculture and Food Culture in 2008, the simple smell of coffee may reduce stress (at least, if you’re a rat). These two relatively recent studies exist within an extensive literature on caffeine and cognitive ability. In 1924, Samuel Cate Prescott, conducting coffee research at MIT, wrote:

It may be stated that, after weighing the evidence, a dispassionate evaluation of the data so comprehensively surveyed has led to no alarming conclusions that coffee is an injurious beverage for the great mass of human beings, but on the contrary that the history of human experience, as well as the results of scientific experimentation, point to the fact that coffee is a beverage which, properly prepared and rightly used, gives comfort and inspiration, augments mental and physical activity, and may be regarded as the servant rather than the destroyer of civilization.

That’s not all caffeine can do. More recently, in 1997 a study using Navy SEALs found that caffeine appeared to positively affect mood performance in stressful situations. In 1993, another found “memory and reasoning appear to improve when caffeine is administered to sleep-deprived individuals.”

So. Finish that cup and workout or nap or have sex or release your inner artiste or take a test or—

Actually, try this. Finish that cup and, newly stimulated, go off to do whatever it is you’d like to do. Maybe consider your options over a fresh second cup.

Update, Aug. 25, 2014: This article was updated to clarify that Kevin Roose’s article was published by Matter magazine, which operates under the Medium publishing platform.

Emily Tamkin is an M.Phil. candidate in Russian and East European studies at Oxford. Follow her on Twitter.  

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