Don't Tell Me This: Is Coffee Just a Placebo?

Me, looking for a blogging buzz.

I’m sorry, research scientists of the University of Bristol’s Department of Experimental Psychology. I just don’t believe you. Frankly, I can’t afford to. Because if coffee won’t wake me up every morning, the only thing left would be to get a decent night’s sleep, and that’s really not an option. I need coffee. I need to believe in my coffee. But no, you’re trying to take that away. Worse: you want me to blame my usual morning lassitude on a coffee addiction itself.

Isn’t time science recognized that there are some thing we just don’t want to know?

I’ve seen this coming. First, there was a little snippet in an article on The Data Driven Life in the New York Times magazine a few weeks ago: a software designer who keeps what some might call an obsessive record of his life charted the amount of focused work time he spent before and after he gave up coffee and found absolutely no difference. “Instead of a stimulating cup of coffee, he got a bracing dose of truth:” when it came to focus, coffee didn’t help. Then there was the moment when it occurred to me that the iced coffee I make at home (a New Orleans concoction based on a cold-soaked grind) probably has only a fraction of the caffeine in the espressos a friend was making for me when I vacationed at her house–and I never noticed any difference. And now, from a study in the journal of Neuropsychopharmacology reported today on Science Daily, this:

“Tests on 379 individuals who abstained from caffeine for 16 hours before being given either caffeine or a placebo and then tested for a range of responses showed little variance in levels of alertness.”

That is really not what I wanted to hear.

Coffee is my solace, my only hope for a productive day after a night filled with barking dogs and barfing children, my comforting clutch while I sit at my computer screen, my afternoon pick-me-up, the linchpin of my routine. It bears repeating: I need coffee. I need it not just for what it does for me, but for what I believe it does for me. If coffee isn’t going to restore my sanity, exactly what will?

Those cursed researchers claim that the regular coffee drinkers in their survey did report decreased alertness when deprived of their joe, but when their coffee was restored, they performed no better on a series of computer tests designed to assess their attentiveness than the (probably sanctimonious) non-coffee drinkers who’d had no caffeine at all. This, they suggested, may mean that rather than adding to our alertness, that morning hit only “brings coffee drinkers back up to ‘normal.’”

Back to normal. I guess I can work with that.

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