Enjoy Your Morning Coffee and A Memory Boost

CoffeeJohn Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences undergraduate Daniel Borota was never much of a coffee-drinker until college.[1] His new-found morning ritual sparked his interest in the effects of caffeine on cognition.1 However, when researching the literature, he found little that answered his question.1 Therefore, he teamed up with Assistant Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences Michael Yassa and a team of researchers to see if they could answer it themselves.1

Borota, Yassa, and researchers conducted a double-blind trial in which volunteer participants were caffeine-naïve, like Borota was before college.1 They did not regularly consume caffeinated products, such as certain soft drinks and supplements, prior to the study.1 During the study, each participant received either a placebo or a 200 mg caffeine tablet, that was equivalent to one strong cup of coffee.1 No one, including the researchers, knew who received which tablet.1

The participants were given the pills five minutes after studying a series of images.1 The following day, both groups were tested for their ability to recognize the images from the previous day’s study session.1 The test included images that were exactly the same as the day before, new, and similar but not exactly the same.1 The participants in the caffeine group were able to correctly identify the images that they studied the day before.1 They were also able to identify those that were similar, but not the same.1

The brain’s ability to recognize the difference between two similar, yet not identical, images is called pattern separation.1 Neuroscientists see it as a reflection of a level of memory retention that is deeper than simple recognition.1 Yassa said, “Pattern separation requires the brain to make a more difficult discrimination, which seems to be the process that is enhanced by caffeine.”1

According to Borota, “Memory is malleable. It can be strengthened or weakened. In this study, we demonstrated that caffeine may help strengthen long-term memory or make it more resistant to forgetting.”1

Borota further explained: “The study was unique because it was a direct test of caffeine’s effect on memory consolidation. By administering caffeine after participants completed the study phase, we controlled for caffeine’s performance enhancing effects, such as increased alertness and attention, which may have showed up as a boost in memory. As a result, we can say with confidence that caffeine has memory-enhancing effects independent from these other cognitive effects which have been well-documented.”1

According to Yassa and researchers, the next step is to use brain-imaging techniques to discover the mechanisms that underlie the enhancement.1 “We also know that caffeine is associated with healthy longevity and may have some protective effects from cognitive decline like Alzheimer’s disease. These are certainly important questions for the future,” Yassa said.1

Caffeine consumption advice from Borota: “Drinking coffee before going to bed is not a good idea. Although caffeine has an enhancing effect on memory, sleep is very important for memory. Sleep deprivation, as would occur with too much coffee, can have negative effects for memory.”1

Enjoy your morning cup!

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