How does caffeine make you not sleepy?

Ok so, caffeine. Some of us live on the stuff, and others of us want nothing to do with it. There's a lot of things caffeine can do to our bodies, but of course the number one question, is how does it keep the sleepiness away? Let's get into it. And we may find out a few other things caffeine does along the way.

125b Caffeine Republish

Melissa: Hey y'all this week for our rebroadcast episode, we wanted to bring back to you how caffeine makes us not sleepy.

Jam: Obviously this goes right, perfectly hand-in-hand with our coffee series. That we're kind of in the middle of, and what I hear, what Melissa's already told us is that the next episode we'll have, will be about decaffeinating coffee. Is that right?

Melissa: That's right. And I'm very excited and I really wanted to pair these two together.

Jam: Nice. And this is a really cool one. So enjoy it. I'll be back with the new episode about decaffeinated coffee next week.

Melissa: That's right. And now onto the show.

Hey, I'm Melissa.

Jam: I'm Jam.

Melissa: And I'm a chemist

Jam: And I'm not

Melissa: and welcome to chemistry for your life.

Jam: the podcast helps you understand the chemistry of your everyday life.

Melissa: Well, normally I start our recording sessions by asking you how you're doing, but I don't have to do that today

Jam: Because you don't care

Melissa: because, because I don't care. about, you know, because I just saw you in person,

Jam: know. Yeah. We had another, not quite as serendipitous, like that target time where we just totally

Melissa: right.

Jam: saw each other. And we happened to see like a few people in that we knew that one day, but this day was a sort of. Preplanned see each other at the coffee stand, um, kinda morning.

Melissa: is really fun. I had an inkling of when they'd be there and Jam's wife, Emiliee loves surprises, and we don't see each other very often. So we masked up and went to the mug inside each other. Should we hold up our mug cups and take a


Jam: Yep.

Melissa: Okay. So that was a really great start to our morning. And it was really fun to see you guys and to see your little man hanging out and to do it in a way that felt safe.

And we were outside and everything. So it was really fun and we supported a local business.

Jam: Yeah, it would hit like all three or four important boxes for any hangout, safe, um, fun supporting a local business and coffee. I think those are the four boxes typically. Right?

Melissa: Yeah. definitely coffee is definitely, always a box for some of us in this recording session

Jam: Yeah, Yeah, that was fun.

Melissa: on that theme. I decided our topic for today. Everyone's about to think that we're doing coffee, but we're still not doing coffee yet, but it's close. We're going to talk about caffeine.

Jam: Oh, nice.

Melissa: And why caffeine makes us not sleepy.

Jam: Nice. I, I mean, as a lover of coffee, I know just a little bit about this and some of that could be wrong.

Melissa: Okay, great. Well, that's exciting. I want to, before we start, give a shout out to Austin F he gave us his episode idea actually in person close to a year ago.

Jam: Whoa.

Melissa: He's a, he's a friend of ours, Austin, and he had the idea to share about this and

Jam: That's a very patient friend of the show, Austin F sorry, take us along.

Melissa: I also want to give a shout out to a fellow graduate student, not my personal fellow graduate student. She doesn't work at UNT, but I stumbled upon her Twitter and her Instagram, her Instagram is called Beth's brain bites and she's a graduate student studying Alzheimer's and she did a really cool infographic and a few tweets on Twitter about how caffeine works.

And that also inspired me. And that information was very active. And it was boiled down in a way that made it really easy to present in this episode. So I used that information and I wanted to give her a shout out and we'll tag her when this episode comes out so that you guys can go check out her resources.

Cause she seems really awesome. And in our show notes, I also put a peer review journal article that she contributed to as an author. So she's. I like to confirm that people who say they're scientists on the internet are actually scientists on the internet by checking out any literature that they've maybe contributed to.

And so I found that from her and is an article about Alzheimer's. So that was pretty cool to find, you know, and, and I was really impressed with her infographic and she has a few of those on her Instagram as well. So

Jam: Nice

Melissa: Yeah. So go check her out and we'll tag her as well.

Jam: Yeah, she sounds legit.

Melissa: Yeah, she seemed legit to me too. And I shot her a little direct message and told her that I was going to do something like this.

So she seems really nice and cool.

Jam: Awesome.

Melissa: Okay. So organic chemistry. We talk about it a lot, but I don't know that I've ever defined it for you.

Jam: Right.

Melissa: Organic molecules are defined as those that contain carbon. And I would say generally they're primarily made up of carbon and hydro—hydrogen. If there's no carbon, it's usually called an inorganic molecule.

Jam: Okay.

Melissa: So a lot, like a lot, a lot of stuff in the world is made up of carbon based molecule.

Jam: So when you're saying this carbon doesn't have, it's not like these are like cage-free, you know, free range molecule.

Melissa: Yeah, not the stamp it on your groceries, organic definition, but the carbon is present.

Jam: Okay.

Melissa: Definition of organic molecules. And I think a lot of people know that already, but I just realized, Hmm, maybe I should clarify that. So caffeine is one of those organic molecules. It is made up of carbon. And when it goes into your body, it ends up in your brain and there's other organic molecules floating around in your brain.

Jam: Okay.

Melissa: One of those is known as adenosine. There are a lot of things that happen in your brain. So this is a very boiled down, very simplified version. I'm not a neuroscientist. I started studying neuroscience in college, but then I realized my true love was chemistry. So. I am aware very vaguely that this does not even begin to cover the majority of what happens in your brain.

But I do know that adenosine is the thing that makes one of the things that makes us sleep. There are adenosine receptors in your brain in when we needed to take a nap or whatever the adenosine, we'll go find its adenosine receptors. And then we'll start to feel sleepy. It's our body's signal to us that it's time for us to take a nap.

Jam: Got it.

Melissa: Caffeine is similar in structure to adenosine. They have similar rings on them. Shapes of rings the way the molecules are built are similar. So caffeine can come into your brain and block adenosine from getting to its receptors.

Jam: Ah, interesting.

Melissa: So if the adenosine can't get to its receptors, we don't know that we need to take a nap. That's why I said, why does caffeine make us less sleepy is because it's really not making us more awake.

It's inhibiting us from knowing how sleepy we are. That's it. That's how caffeine makes you more awake.

Jam: That's crazy. I remember reading some stuff about this, not as deep in the molecules. But I think it did mention adenosineizine as he said,

Melissa: Yeah.

Jam: but it didn't give the clarity about the molecules being so similar. I remember saying something like, kind of like that last sentence you said, really? It just, it prevents us from being aware that we should start feeling sleepy.

Like it it's not actually wakes us up. That was the part that I remember reading somewhere. And if it didn't have a lot of, of deeper info about that,

Melissa: Right. Well, and it does do some other stuff. It's a little bit deeper. That's the basics that Beth shared on her Twitter. But I found a video from the American chemical society that also talked about when caffeine enters your liver, it's broken down. Into three more organic molecules and those are all very similar.

They just basically get one little alteration where a carbon and three hydrogens are knocked off in different positions. The fancy names for them. I don't know if anyone would care would be theobromine paraxanthine and theophylline I think is how you pronounce it. And those are also molecules that.

Cause a response in your body. So one of them increases oxygen and nutrient flow to your brain. So that can contribute to you feeling more awake. One of them increases the rate of that breakdown to feel muscle activity in your body.

Jam: oh,

Melissa: And one of them increases your heart rate and your ability to concentrate. So on the one hand we have caffeine and probably some of these other molecules, although I'm not 100% sure. Cause they all have very similar structure, still inhibiting your adenosineity and receptors. So you can't feel how sleepy you are, but also you're getting that added response of increased oxygen.

You're getting increased rate of your fat breakdown, your heart rates increasing and caffeine can even stimulate. The production of adrenaline and that can make your heart rate increase as well and give you that more awake response.

Jam: Gotcha. Okay. So there really is a lot going on, not just one little thing that caffeine is doing. It can cause a few different changes in our bodies. Wow. That's crazy.

Melissa: Yeah, So there's this simple piece to it, or maybe not simple. Very easy to understand it inhibits our adenosine receptors, but also there are other things going on as caffeine gets processed in your body, maybe by enzymes breaking it down in your liver. So there are other responses going on as well.

And I think that's true for everything. There's a lot that happens, but I thought it was fun that there's this extra piece too, that goes on as well.

Jam: Yeah,

Melissa: It's pretty cool.

Jam: that's really cool. I did not know that, like, especially that second half of stuff, the three of the things it does add no idea.

Melissa: So that's kind of a shorter one than normal, but I do think it's important for us to know that organic molecules are everywhere and chemistry plays a role in so much, even our fun caffeine intake. And if you want to give us a review on that, then I've got a few more, even fun facts for you on this topic.

So there's a reward in it.

Jam: Excellent. I'm ready. Okay. So in our brains, there's always this game of musical chairs going on. And normally we start to get to the end of the day and adenosine starts making its way toward the chairs. So the music stops, so to speak is as any professional or amateur musical chairs player would know.

And so,

Melissa: music chair players.

Jam: oh, absolutely.

Melissa: Okay, cool. Right. Definitely. I don't want to undermine their profession.

Jam: How'd you get it? I don't know. What would happen though, if you had the game going and then some people snuck into the game.

Melissa: Um,

Jam: So suddenly, whereas normally it's like only a few chairs, too few. So a couple of get out every time, every round of musical chairs, caffeine, and his, or her buddies sneak in to the. Started getting closer to the end of the day, or even, I guess just during the day we feel tired in the day too, but music stops and caffeine swoops in and sits in some of the chairs.

Melissa: That's right. Yeah.

Jam: And then adenosine is like, oh man, I guess, huh, no chairs for us. And so rather than it being like, it totally did anything to the adenosine.

It just took the. The adenosine was trying to get to in our brains

Melissa: Yes.

Jam: or the receptors, which would be a better than the actual word. So then we don't feel the tiredness that we actually are as much because the adenosine wasn't able to tell our body that we are tired.

Melissa: that's right. That was a good explanation.

Jam: I though in brewing, I was like, there's something, there is some game or something that's kind of rounded me up. Like, I've got to figure that out. And then the bonus elements to this that I can't really think of a good analogy for are that caffeine also, when it goes to our liver is broken down into some different molecules where some, some elements are shaved off or whatever.

And it starts to circulate through our bodies and has three different effects that hope I can remember the first is that it increases oxygen delivery to the rest of our body

in general,

Melissa: and nutrient flow to the.

Jam: did the brand specific. Okay.

Melissa: Maybe the rest of the body too, but that is the American chemical society only clarified to the brain.

Jam: And brains love oxygen. So that makes sense.

Melissa: They love it.

Jam: And then also increases our heart rate and that one, that one can, can have the adrenaline effect as well. Like I can increase the amount of adrenaline.

Melissa: wasn't clear on what increased the adrenaline, but it just said caffeine can stimulate the production of adrenaline. That was the exact wording.

Jam: Stimulating the production. Okay.

Melissa: I worried that if I went down the rabbit hole of how do each one of these distinct things do each of them.

Jam: Jobs.

Melissa: Right. It would be a little too murky and I kind of wanted to keep this clean cut focused on organic molecules having impacts in our body,

Jam: Totally. And he said those would be so, so an anatomy and biology, if we can be there on episode or something, if you

Melissa: Yeah. it,

would probably not be fun or worth it, to try to fit it into one episode.

Jam: and then the last one is about it increasing or signaling to our body, to. Burn fat at a higher rate.

Melissa: Yeah, it said it could increase the rate. of fat breakdown to fuel muscle activity.

Jam: Got it.

Interesting. really? Was that

all three of those?

Melissa: that was all three of those? and their names were.

Jam: Theobromine

Melissa: make sure I get these right. Theobromine, paraxanthine, and theophylline. I

Jam: nice.

Melissa: not 100% sure on the pronunciation, but I'm pretty sure that's right. And we'll link to our sources so that you can see those for yourself if you want. And there's a really cool video from the American chemical society that talks about this.

Jam: Nice.

Melissa: Here's a little bit more though. Here are your fun facts for the, for the week.

Jam: Awesome. I'm

Melissa: you did great. You deserve them. You, you earned them.

Jam: And this is like, I mean, I'm always interested in every topic, but caffeine and coffee. Um, obviously caffeine's a big part of coffee, so I'm way interested, especially in this kind of topic. So all the fun facts you have, I'm ready,

Melissa: Awesome. Okay. We talked a few weeks ago on the alcohol episode that the dose makes the poison

Jam: right?

Melissa: caffeine can be poisonous,

Jam: Oh, man.

Melissa: right? So if you go over about 400 milligrams of caffeine, so that's about three cups of coffee and there was not a timeframe for how quickly you did this. So I assume you're just slamming back three cups of coffee.

Jam: Before the caffeine you already drank can leave your body, I guess like if you did it that fast. Okay.

Melissa: maybe they said 400 milligrams is about the safest average dose for adults.

Jam: Okay.

Melissa: That's about three cups of coffee. It becomes toxic at 10 grams, two that's, 75 cups of coffee.

Jam: Oh, wow.

Melissa: That would be a lie. But they do now have caffeine pills. So I think if you took all those caffeine pills at once, that would be more dangerous.

You're not probably likely to just slam back 75 cups of coffee.

Jam: That's true. Well then, like, I mean, some energy drinks. The amount of caffeine has multiple cups of coffee. So I guess, depending on how fast she chugged those, you could, I mean, I guess wouldn't be close to 75, but it's still be pretty high.

Melissa: So 400 is the optimal above that you maybe start to have the adverse effects, feeling bad, jittery, et cetera. And then it becomes toxic at 10 grams. A lot of different adults though. That's a, that's an average. So I think if you have a larger body mass, you probably can take more than if you have a very small body mass.

So maybe a. Very small adult, four foot 10, no body fat at all is going to have a faster reaction than someone who's like six foot tall or whatever.

Jam: Right. Okay. Got it.

Melissa: So, and I know between men and women metabolism can differ. So there's also possibly something with that. So that's an average, so don't think I can take 10 grams of caffeine and you know, don't, don't begin crazy.

That's just an average. The next thing I thought was really interesting. Is, if you drink coffee more often, the brain can make more adenosine receptors. And that's why you can build up a tolerance to the effects of caffeine. And you may need more and more coffee is because your brain is making more adenosine receptors.

That's why Jam can have a cup of coffee before he goes to bed. And Melissa can not do that, or she'll be awake for a while.

Jam: That's so funny. I was sticking up coffee, editing an episode last night, and I was drinking the coffee all the way up until finishing the episode, finished the coffee club. My computer went to bed. It was just perfect. It's like, I need this fuel while I'm doing this, but that makes sense. I've wondered that I've wondered if it was like, am I just less sensitive to it?

Like how is it that my body. Could be so different from somebody else's. Some people we have a mutual friend named Ryan who, the amount of caffeine, this is in decaf. Coffee is enough for him. Like it makes a big difference for him and he cannot have a regular cup of coffee at all. It just way too strong for him.

That's so crazy that it can be so different.

Melissa: Maybe he just doesn't have enough adenosine receptors.

Jam: Maybe. Yeah. They

may gotta get

Melissa: all get inhibited really quickly.

Jam: Yeah, we should get him. Some more,

Melissa: I think he gets them by building up his immunity

Jam: he's got some work to do.

Melissa: and then. My last fun fact I thought was interesting is coffee can also make you feel happier because caffeine can inhibit dopamine reabsorption. So dopamine, I don't know all the ins and outs of the details of what dopamine does, but it can give you that happy feeling. And so caffeine can inhibit that being reabsorbed.

So it's hanging out more in your brain. So then you're going to feel happy.

Jam: Dang. There's so many like different facets to caffeine effect on our bodies. I just should not

Melissa: I know. Yeah. I think it helps that it has this basic structure. That there's a lot of things that are similar to that. in our bodies already, but we know that one little thing can change a lot if we change our own organic molecules. So

Jam: Yeah,

Melissa: it's pretty cool. Huh?

Jam: that's very cool, man. I love it.

Melissa: Yay coffee. Yay. Caffeine. Yay. Seeing friends at coffee shops safely with masks on

Jam: So if I'm understanding correctly, you're saying I should have like maybe lower my cup of coffee a day from 75 to like 70 or so.

Melissa: no, don't come anywhere near the 10 grams. We don't know how it. will affect your individual body.

Jam: it. So like maybe like 60 cups instead of something like that. I'm just trying

to get a good gauge of how many.

Melissa: safe. No, I'm just kidding. Don't no one should be drinking 60 cups of coffee a day. I'm sure that would have a lot of negative effects on you besides the toxicity of it.

Jam: Yeah. I definitely don't get anywhere close to that.

Melissa: I don't know. You'd probably do six,

Jam: At a certain point, you'd also get close to the amount of water that is like dangerous for you to like, there's a lot of things that be gone down and someone adds something to their coffee. Then they be getting like a ton of sugar or milk or whatever, more than they should have. So all kinds of things I'm sure would start going wrong.

Melissa: Oh, definitely. Okay, great. Well, celebrating coffee. I also want to celebrate something else.

Jam: Oh, yes.

Melissa: This week, I logged into our hosting platform and I was looking at something specific for our downloads and suddenly realized. That we had crossed the border into a hundred thousand total downloads.

Jam: Yeah. So crazy. Like

Melissa: I can believe

Jam: so hard to fathom. I was really hoping I was going to. A lot closer to the one year mark too, because we were getting, we were getting close, but it was not close enough to happen, like on August 1st or whatever, but yeah, isn't that crazy?

Melissa: Yeah. And I just wanted to take a minute to thank our listeners. I, I try to communicate to you guys a lot that this show wouldn't exist without you. And that it has meant so much to me to renew my joy in science communication and to help me feel like I have reached my goals. I'm, I'm living out my science communication dreams and my chemistry education dreams.

And I'm so thankful to. Every single one of you who've ever clicked on the download button to get us to that 100,000 number. And I don't think numbers matter as much. I love also our, our interaction, but I think that's just a milestone that shows that people are enjoying this and benefiting from this and want to learn chemistry, which is so encouraging and exciting to me.

Jam: Yeah, Yeah, it it's just like a number, but it has definitely a correlation to how many of you guys are listening and we've gotten a lot. Just fun feedback and fun messages and great questions and ideas from you guys. And if we were counting, those might be even a better metric. Just kind of weird to think that some combination has been downloaded a hundred thousand times that it's just so nuts.

Melissa: Right. And beyond my wildest dreams, I never thought that would happen.

Jam: Yeah,

Melissa: So I was excited for our first 100 downloads. I was amazed that even a hundred people wanted to learn anything. So our a hundred episodes were listened to. So I think that that is really, really cool. So I wanted to say that And also along a similar vein.

And now have a place to sit. I had an office. Yeah, I have at least to be, um, I had an office where I was for a long time, but it was on borrowed time. We didn't have a chemistry ed faculty member. But a chemistry education expert has joined the team at my school and our department, and she has a lab now.

So I can go and be in that lab and have a desk and office space. And I'll be able to record in there, I think for the foreseeable future. And I should be able to stay sitting there through the rest of my grad school experience. So I found a permanent home and that's very exciting to


Jam: And hopefully we can both record there once we can be together and recording in person safely.

Melissa: Hopefully. So, so that's very exciting. I have a space and I can keep recording and don't have to move around every single week and keep making more episodes. Hopefully get to 200,000.

Jam: Yeah.

Melissa: What about you? Do you have a fun, happy thing? We've shared a lot already. We shared about coffee. We shared about a hundred thousand.

It's just a good news episode.

Jam: Yeah. Mine is a short one, but I had a pretty big project. I've been working on the past two weeks for work. Um, Mike, my marketing business, which is what I do with. Podcasting with Melissa. And it was one of the more significant products I've had since, since having my own business, working for myself and wrapped it up.

And it was really proud of where it, it ended. It was about a two and a half week or so project to think, give or take and one on one hands, just like a relief to kind of have something like that. Done. Do you like, okay, great. It's done. And I can kind of rest a little bit and also just feeling like it's also great that I had a project that was, that was pretty big like that.

So in general, just feeling kind of good about that and glad that that's over. And also just glad that I got to do it at all.

Melissa: Well, congratulations.

Jam: Yeah. That's pretty awesome.

Melissa: It's been fun to follow your progress from leaving your full-time job to deciding, to become a freelancer to now having some success in building your business. That's pretty cool,

Jam: Yeah. Yeah. It's been fun. It's definitely like, keeps me on my toes for sure. Because now I'm like, okay, well I hope I do hope another big project comes soon or some, several small ones or whatever, but it's just like, there's always that level of it. But in general, I'm feeling optimistic for sure.

Melissa: Well, thanks Jam, for taking time away from your freelancing stuff to come hang out and podcasts with me. And thanks to all of you listeners for caring enough to learn about chemistry a hundred thousand times. That is amazing.

Jam: Well, thanks for teaching us that many times, obviously health is recorded, so you don't have to have to teach everything. Time, but thanks for teaching, especially such a cool topic like caffeine and Melissa and I have a lot of ideas like that, but we want to hear from you ideas, you have about chemistry in your everyday life.

So if you have any of those, you can reach out to us on Gmail, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook at chemforyourlife, that's chem F-O-R your life to share your thoughts and ideas. If you'd like to help us keep our show going and contribute to cover the cost of making it go to and donate the cost of a cup of coffee, coffee, caffeine. Give, give our podcast a little bit of caffeine. Um, if you aren't able to donate, you can still help us by subscribing on your favorite podcast, app and rating and writing a review on apple podcasts. That also helps us to be able to share chemistry with even more people.

Melissa: This episode of chemistry for your life was created by a Melissa Collini and Jam Robinson references for this episode can be found in our show notes or on our website. Be sure to check out Beth's brain bites on Instagram as well. Jam Robinson is our producer, and we'd like to give a special thanks to A Hefner and S Flynt who reviewed this episode.

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