Effects of Caffeine: Andrew Huberman

This podcast explores the nuanced relationship between caffeine intake and cognitive performance, drawing on the expertise of renowned scientists like Huberman and Dr. Matthew Walker.

From the optimal caffeine dosage for peak mental alertness to the interplay between caffeine consumption and sleep quality, they delve into the science behind why and how caffeine affects us.

Concentration Effects of Caffeine

Caffeine can enhance focus and concentration when consumed in appropriate doses, which vary depending on an individual’s tolerance and adaptability to the substance.

Huberman mentioned that the optimal range for enhancing concentration is typically between 100-400 milligrams of caffeine. However, he emphasized that the ideal dosage differs from person to person.

Those who are not accustomed to consuming caffeine may experience increased anxiety, profuse sweating, elevated heart rate, and heightened mental alertness at higher doses.

For individuals seeking to improve their concentration without overwhelming side effects, Huberman recommends a moderate caffeine intake of 90-120 milligrams, consumed at least 90 minutes before engaging in tasks requiring focus.

Caffeine can be ingested in various forms, including coffee, yerba mate, and pills, with Huberman’s personal preference being yerba mate due to its unique compounds and flavors.

Huberman also delved into the science behind caffeine’s effects on the brain, particularly its impact on dopamine receptors. Regular caffeine consumption can alter the function and number of these receptors, influencing motivation and alertness. Additionally, caffeine affects the norepinephrine system, which is responsible for the body’s “fight or flight” response.

Excessive caffeine intake can sometimes lead to feelings of nervousness or anxiety, which are a result of the sympathetic nervous system’s activation.

This heightened state of alertness can cause physical changes, such as dilated pupils, even in dimly lit environments.

Caffeine and Sleep: Matthew Walker

Dr. Mathew Walker explained that caffeine is a psychoactive stimulant that works through various mechanisms, including increasing dopamine levels and blocking the effects of adenosine, a chemical that builds up in the brain throughout the day and creates sleep pressure.

As we stay awake, our brain cells combust energy, producing adenosine as a byproduct. The more adenosine accumulates, the sleepier we feel.

This process is a gradual, progressive one that involves both the inhibition of wake-promoting areas of the brain and the activation of sleep-promoting regions.

Caffeine, however, competes with adenosine for its receptors in the brain. Instead of activating these receptors, caffeine blocks them, effectively preventing adenosine from communicating to the brain that it’s time to sleep.

This is why we feel more alert after consuming caffeine, even if we’ve been awake for many hours.

The downside of this process is the caffeine crash. Caffeine has a half-life of five to six hours, meaning that it takes that long for half of the consumed caffeine to be metabolized by the body.

When caffeine is finally dislodged from the adenosine receptors, we experience a sudden increase in sleepiness as the built-up adenosine floods our system.

While some people claim to be able to consume caffeine late in the day and still sleep well, Walker cautions that this may be a subjective perception.

Even if an individual falls asleep easily after consuming caffeine, the quality and architecture of their sleep may be disrupted, leading to less restorative sleep overall.

Optimal Time to Stop Consuming Caffeine

Walker emphasized that while many people may not have trouble falling asleep after drinking caffeine late in the day, the depth of their sleep can be significantly affected.

According to Walker, the depth of deep sleep can be reduced by up to 30% when consuming caffeine too close to bedtime.

To put this into perspective, he stated that to achieve the same reduction in deep sleep, one would have to age an individual by 10 to 12 years. This highlights the profound impact that late caffeine consumption can have on the quality of sleep.

The recommended guideline is to count back 8 to 10 hours from your typical bedtime and cease caffeine intake at that point. For example, if you usually go to bed between 10:00 pm and 10:30 pm, it’s advised to stop consuming caffeine between 12:00 pm and 2:30 pm.

Walker also pointed out that even if individuals can fall asleep and stay asleep after late caffeine consumption, they may not feel fully restored upon waking.

This can lead to a dependency cycle, where people reach for more coffee in the morning to compensate for the lack of restful sleep.

In some cases, individuals may even resort to using alcohol in the evening to counteract the effects of excessive caffeine, which can further disrupt sleep quality.

Good Sleep Helps Caffeine Tolerance

Contrary to popular belief, Huberman suggests that a good night’s sleep may actually enhance your ability to handle caffeine.

Huberman explains that when you’ve had a restful sleep, your body is better regulated, allowing you to consume more caffeine without experiencing the negative side effects. This is due to the intricate balance between the sympathetic (alertness) and parasympathetic nervous systems, which are controlled by different neurons and molecules in the body.

He compares the interplay between these two systems to a seesaw. When you’re sleep-deprived, the hinge on this seesaw becomes loose, causing you to oscillate between feeling highly alert and utterly exhausted. In such cases, even a small amount of caffeine can lead to a dysregulated state.

On the other hand, when you’ve slept well, you have better control over your mind and body, enabling you to handle more caffeine without the same level of disruption.

This counterintuitive finding suggests that prioritizing sleep may not only improve your overall well-being but also enhance your ability to enjoy your daily cup of coffee without the jitters.

Afternoon Caffeine & Sleep

Sleep is the foundation of mental and physical health, and it is essential to getting enough quality sleep each night.

While it is understandable that some people may have difficulty getting enough sleep, the goal should be to get enough quality sleep for 80% of the nights of your life, and to make sure that the remaining 20% of nights without enough sleep are for good reasons, such as child rearing.

To ensure that you get the best quality sleep, it is important to avoid caffeine intake in the 12 hours prior to sleep.

This means that even if you are someone who can drink an espresso and fall right asleep, you should still avoid caffeine in the 12 hours leading up to your bedtime.

The ideal time to have your last caffeine intake is before noon, if you go to sleep around 10 p.m. every night.

It is important to note that the quarter-life of caffeine is 12 hours, meaning that 25% of its effects will still be active at midnight after you ingest it.

This can disrupt the early phase of your night, the amount of slow-wave sleep, and the amount of rapid eye movement sleep. This can also disrupt your emotional processing during the following day.

To avoid disrupting your sleep-wake cycle, it is best to avoid drinking caffeine in the 12 hours prior to sleep, and if you can’t do that, try to limit your caffeine intake in the 8-12 hours prior to going to sleep at night.

Slow-wave sleep, also known as deep sleep, is the sleep associated with growth hormone release, which is important for protein synthesis, repair of all bodily tissues, and metabolism. It is also critically important for your immune system’s ability to clear out pathogens.

In summary, it is important to avoid caffeine intake in the 12 hours prior to sleep, and to strive to get quality sleep most nights of your life.

This will ensure that you are able to get the benefits of deep sleep and the release of growth hormones, which are essential for maintaining good physical and mental health.

Caffeine & Naps

There is a trend known as the nappuccino, which involves drinking a cup of coffee or double espresso and then taking a nap, typically in the afternoon, with the idea that the caffeine will hit your system right when you wake up from the nap and you will be better able to focus and exercise. However, there are a few things that are not ideal about this practice.

First, it implies that in most cases, people are napping and ingesting caffeine in the afternoon.

This is not ideal because caffeine can have sleep-diminishing effects and it is better to restrict caffeine intake to the early part of the day.

The other reason is that the data on things like non-sleep deep rest and naps in the afternoon shows that naps of 90 minutes or less, or non-sleep deep rest protocols, can lead to increases in one of the catecholamines, dopamine, and can improve mood, focus, and alertness on its own without the need to ingest caffeine prior to going into those states.

In fact, ingesting caffeine prior to a nap or non-sleep deep rest will most certainly reduce the effectiveness of the nap and non-sleep deep rest in restoring natural levels of alertness and focus that would lead to the performance-enhancing effect.

Caffeine and Adenosine 

Caffeine is a methylxanthine, which is a plant alkaloid that is bitter in taste.

It is found in many plants and is consumed by bees and humans in small amounts, despite its bitter taste.

Caffeine binds to adenosine receptors, which are found in different parts of the brain and body.

Adenosine makes us feel tired because it taps into the ATP pathway, which is responsible for energy production in the brain and body.

When caffeine binds to adenosine receptors, it prevents adenosine from breaking down certain components of the energy production pathway.

This results in increased cyclic AMP, which leads to increased energy levels. However, it is important to understand that caffeine does not actually create more energy in the body. Instead, it changes the timing of when sleepy and energetic signals are received.

It is also important to note that when we wake up after a good night’s sleep, our adenosine levels are at their lowest.

To get the most benefit from caffeine, it is best to avoid consuming it for the first 90 to 120 minutes after waking, as this allows for the complete clearing of adenosine from the body.

However, for most people, adenosine levels will accumulate throughout the day, making them feel more sleepy.

The only way to offset this is by blocking the function of adenosine through the consumption of caffeine.

Dopamine Stacking

Dopamine stacking is a technique that involves combining various stimuli, such as caffeine and exercise, to increase dopamine release in the brain.

This technique was discussed in an episode of the Huberman Lab podcast, which is one of the most popular episodes on the show. The episode highlighted the fact that while there are many things that can increase dopamine release, there are also certain compounds and activities that can increase dopamine to varying levels and to varying degrees, both healthy and unhealthy.

However, for those who tend to experience difficulty with motivation, dopamine stacking may not be the best approach.

Dopamine stacking can lead to a peak in dopamine levels, but it also leads to a subsequent drop in dopamine levels below baseline.

This requires being able to tolerate a drop in dopamine baseline for a period of time.

In the context of caffeine and exercise, a recent study has shown that using caffeine prior to exercise increases dopamine after exercise.

While this may seem like dopamine stacking, it is important to keep in mind that this should not be done consistently every time you exercise.

Instead, it should be done occasionally to increase mood, alertness, and performance, or to condition yourself to increase your liking or even your love of exercise.

However, it is important to be cautious when using caffeine before exercise and to pay attention to how you feel in the hours and days after the dopamine increase wears off.

If you experience a low after eight hours or the next day, it is best to avoid doing the same thing again in the future.

Morning Exercise & Residual Caffeine Effects

Dr. Huberman understands that some people cannot or will not delay their caffeine intake for 90 to 120 minutes after waking.

For those who like to wake up and do intense exercise within the first 90 minutes after waking, it is appropriate to ingest caffeine just before the exercise.

However, it is important to note that this combination of drinking caffeine shortly after waking and exercising intensely will increase the intensity of the afternoon fatigue.

For some people, this is not a problem as they can afford to take a nap or do non-sleep deep rest, step away from work, etc.

In that case, Dr. Huberman strongly encourages regular exercise as it is beneficial for overall health.

He follows a workout program that involves some early morning workouts shortly after waking and in those cases, he ingests caffeine just before the workout.

On other days, Dr. Huberman delays his caffeine intake for 90 to 120 minutes and has found it to be beneficial. Most people who try this have also reported the same.

For those who find it difficult to delay their caffeine intake, Dr. Huberman suggests pushing out the caffeine intake by 15 minutes each day until they reach the 90 to 120 minutes mark. This might take a week or so, but once they get there, it will be easy to maintain.

For those who insist on drinking caffeine shortly after waking, Dr. Huberman suggests drinking half of the caffeine upon waking and the other half an hour later. This will help offset some of the afternoon crash.

Caffeine has a quarter-life of about 12 hours, which means that if you were to ingest a cup of coffee at 8 a.m., about 25% of that caffeine action will still be present at 8 p.m. that night.

This is why it can impede sleep if we take caffeine in the afternoon. By drinking half of the caffeine upon waking and the other half an hour later, it will extend the effects of caffeine, preventing the need for more caffeine in the afternoon and avoiding the afternoon crash.

Caffeine Benefits for Physical Performance

Caffeine also improves mental and physical performance.

Thousands of studies have shown that caffeine reduces reaction time, making us quicker to respond to stimuli. In laboratory studies, participants who ingested caffeine 30 minutes before a task showed significant improvements in reaction time. Additionally, caffeine can improve physical performance by increasing endurance and reducing muscle pain.

It’s important to note that the effects of caffeine on mental and physical performance can be further enhanced by consuming it at regular intervals while working.

Ingesting caffeine in pill form or drinking it quickly will result in an increase in alertness within 5 minutes, peaking at 30 minutes and lasting for up to 60 minutes.

Caffeine Effects on Brain; Reward Pathways

Caffeine is a naturally occurring substance that can be found in certain plants and flowers.

It is known for its ability to improve alertness, memory, and reaction time in humans. However, recent research has shown that caffeine also acts as a powerful reinforcer of experience.

This means that not only does caffeine make the drink or food that contains it more appealing, but it also enhances the experience of the person or object associated with it.

This combination has become increasingly popular in energy drinks due to its ability to provide a smoother energy boost.

In a recent study titled “Caffeine in Floral Nectar Enhances a Pollinator’s Memory of Reward,” scientists have discovered that caffeine in nature acts as a reinforcer for bees that are consuming nectar from different flowers.

The researchers found that bees are more likely to remember the location of a flower that contains caffeine in its nectar, which in turn, helps them to efficiently gather nectar and pollen for their hive.

It is important to note that caffeine is a bitter substance, and in high concentrations, it would be unappealing to most insects and animals.

However, in nature, caffeine is present in low concentrations or is masked by other flavors in flowers and plants, making it more palatable.

Caffeine and Theonine

Huberman revealed that he personally refrains from ingesting theonine during the day, opting to incorporate it into his sleep cocktail instead. However, he noted that many people choose to combine theonine with coffee.

Theanine has a calming effect and can be used to offset jitteriness from caffeine-containing products during the day.

It stimulates the glutamate and glutamine pathway and competes for the receptors of excitatory neurotransmitters like glutamate, reducing overall levels of alertness.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Huberman’s discussion revolved around the timing of caffeine intake. He strongly recommends waiting 90 to 120 minutes after waking up before consuming any caffeine.

The reasoning behind this is rooted in the body’s natural production of adenosine, a compound that builds up during wakefulness and is responsible for feelings of sleepiness.

Caffeine acts as an adenosine antagonist, effectively blocking the adenosine receptors in the brain. However, when the effects of caffeine wear off, individuals may experience a significant crash due to the surplus of adenosine in their system. By delaying caffeine consumption for 90 to 120 minutes after waking, Huberman suggests that the body’s natural adenosine levels will taper down, reducing the likelihood of an afternoon energy slump.

In addition to his insights on caffeine timing, Huberman shared his personal preference for yerba mate tea.

He specifically mentioned his fondness for the Anna Park brand, which offers a loose-leaf variety with a high caffeine content.

Huberman highlighted the presence of glucagon-like peptide one (GLP-1) in yerba mate, a compound that has been garnering attention for its potential anti-diabetes and obesity properties. GLP-1 has also been shown to upregulate dopamine receptors, making it an intriguing substance for further research.

Other Effects: Hormone Levels, Depression, Osteoporosis

When it comes to caffeine, there are several myths circulating about its effects on our bodies.

One of the most common is the idea that caffeine can increase the risk of osteoporosis.

While it is true that caffeine can extract calcium from certain tissues, large-scale studies have shown that if individuals are getting enough calcium through their diet, there is no direct relationship between caffeine intake and osteoporosis.

Another myth surrounding caffeine is that it can reduce hormone levels, such as testosterone or estrogen.

However, large-scale studies have found that at moderate levels of caffeine intake, there are no consistent increases or reductions in hormone levels in men or women that can be directly attributed to caffeine consumption.

It’s important to note that these studies are difficult to conduct because of the high percentage of adults who consume caffeine, making it difficult to find a control group.

Additionally, caffeine intake has been found to have a slight impact on sex hormone-binding globulin, a protein present in both men and women that binds to sex steroid hormones, preventing them from being in their free or active form.

Studies have shown that caffeine intake can increase sex hormone-binding globulin, which can slightly reduce overall levels of free testosterone and free estradiol in women. However, these effects are relatively minor.

Overall, while caffeine can have some minor effects on hormone levels and bone density, it is important to keep in mind that these effects are relatively small and can be mitigated by ensuring that you are getting enough calcium through your diet.

Caffeine, Performance & Menstrual Cycle

Caffeine is a widely used stimulant that can improve mental and physical performance.

Some people may wonder if caffeine has different effects on the nervous system and performance, depending on the phase of the menstrual cycle.

Recent research has explored this question and found that caffeine can enhance physical performance during all three phases of the menstrual cycle.

One study, entitled “Caffeine Consumption and Menstrual Function,” looked at the relationship between caffeine and menstrual function.

Another study, published in the European Journal of Nutrition in 2020, titled “Ergogenic Effects of Caffeine on Peak Aerobic Cycling Power During the Menstrual Cycle,” found that caffeine increased peak aerobic cycling power during the early follicular, pre-ovulatory, and mid-luteal phases of the menstrual cycle. The study used a dosage of 3 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body mass.

The findings of these studies suggest that for women who are regular users of caffeine or use caffeine to enhance physical performance, there does not seem to be any menstrual cycle phase-dependent effects of caffeine on performance.

In other words, caffeine seems to always increase physical performance, regardless of the phase of the menstrual cycle.

Pro-Health Effects of Caffeine

One of the most well-established pro-health effects of caffeine is its ability to lower the probability of developing Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s related dementia.

This is likely due to caffeine’s ability to increase the release of neurotransmitters and neuromodulators that are known to be defective in these diseases.

A 2016 review titled “The Neuroprotective Effects of Caffeine and Neurodegenerative Diseases” provides an extensive overview of the studies in animals and humans that support this claim.

Additionally, caffeine has been found to be effective in reducing headaches when taken in combination with aspirin, and providing brief but substantial relief from asthma.

However, it is important to note that caffeine should not be relied upon as a life-saving approach for asthma attacks.

The recommended dosage for these pro-health effects is one to three milligrams per kilogram of body weight.

Wrapping Up

Caffeine is a widely consumed substance that has numerous benefits for both mental and physical performance. 

Studies have shown that caffeine increases neuromodulators such as dopamine and norepinephrine, which are responsible for increasing alertness, motivation, and drive. 

Additionally, caffeine has been shown to reduce reaction time, improve endurance, and reduce muscle pain. 

Caffeine also acts as a powerful reinforcing agent, making the drink or food that contains it more appealing and enhancing the experience of the person or object associated with it. 

However, it is important to note that excessive caffeine intake can lead to negative effects and it’s important to consume it in moderation.

Related Posts

Thanks for reading Huberman Lab (RP)! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.

Huberman’s Sponsors

AG1 (Athletic Greens): https://athleticgreens.com/huberman

Levels: https://levels.link/huberman

Eight Sleep: https://www.eightsleep.com/huberman

ROKA: https://www.roka.com/huberman

InsideTracker: https://www.insidetracker.com/huberman

Supplements from Momentous https://www.livemomentous.com/huberman

Articles Mentioned

Anti-diabetic effects of GLP1 analogs are mediated by thermogenic interleukin-6 signaling in adipocytes: https://bit.ly/3Vy58Mi

Caffeine in Floral Nectar Enhances a Pollinator’s Memory of Reward: https://bit.ly/3XZ7Yf9

Consumption of caffeinated beverages and serum concentrations of sex steroid hormones in US men: https://bit.ly/3Y94kPZ

Inverse association between caffeine intake and depressive symptoms in US adults: data from National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2005-2006: https://bit.ly/3XVB7I1

Caffeine stimulation of cortisol secretion across the waking hours in relation to caffeine intake levels: https://bit.ly/3iAS5eH

Time course of tolerance to the performance benefits of caffeine: https://bit.ly/3F4kGjN

Caffeine consumption and menstrual function: https://bit.ly/3F1pBlM

Ergogenic effects of caffeine on peak aerobic cycling power during the menstrual cycle: https://bit.ly/3B819xX

Consolidating Memories: https://bit.ly/3UEudUQ

Blood dopamine level enhanced by caffeine in men after treadmill running: https://bit.ly/3HrqKpJ

The neuroprotective effects of caffeine in neurodegenerative diseases: https://bit.ly/3Ha3kER

Huberman’s Links

Website – https://hubermanlab.com

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/hubermanlab

Twitter – https://twitter.com/hubermanlab

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/hubermanlab

Newsletter – https://hubermanlab.com/neural-network

TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@hubermanlab

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/andrew-huberman/


The content above is a summary from the Huberman Lab podcast. I’m not affiliated with him. This is an attempt to convert a podcast into a readable blog post.

If you’d like to support Huberman, you can do so by checking out the sponsors. All affiliate links go to Dr. Huberman.effects-of-caffeine

Leave a Comment