Coffee & Health
Mental performance

What happens to the brain after drinking a cup of coffee? ISIC launches new animated video

May 17, 2016

Animated video explains the science behind coffee consumption and brain function

The Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee (ISIC) has launched its latest animated video which explains the science behind coffee’s effect on the brain. It explores the role caffeine can play in alertness and performance, as well as reviewing individual sensitivity and recommended intake levels.

Caffeine is considered to be the main component in coffee that impacts brain function. Extensive research has shown beneficial effects of caffeine in the diet, such as improved attention1, alertness1 and physical performance2.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concludes that a 75mg serving of caffeine helps to increase attention and alertness1. Although caffeine content will vary according to processing and preparation, a typical cup of coffee provides 75-100mg3.

The video details how after drinking a cup of coffee, caffeine is absorbed into the blood stream and transported around the body to the brain. In the brain adenosine acts as a central nervous system depressant and promotes feelings of tiredness4. Due to its similar structure, caffeine may bind to the adenosine receptors, acting as an imposter and blocking the actions of adenosine, leading to feelings of alertness4.

Research suggests that coffee and caffeine may improve alertness in situations which require sustained concentration, such as long distance driving5 and driving at night6, and may be effective in improving performance in people who work shifts or are suffering from jet lag7.

Genetic variability can impact how individuals metabolise caffeine8,9, as can age (younger people seem to be less sensitive than older people)10. Regular coffee drinkers may be less sensitive to the effects of caffeine, and if someone drinks more coffee than they usually do, it may affect sleep patterns or lead to hyperactivity11. These effects are usually short lived once a person returns to their regular pattern of consumption.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) advises that caffeine intakes from all sources up to 400 mg per day (the equivalent of up to 5 cups of coffee) and single doses of 200mg do not raise safety concerns for adults in the general population12. Pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised to consume no more than 200mg of caffeine per day from all sources (2-3 cups of coffee)12.


To view the animated video, ‘Coffee and its Effect on the Brain’, click here.

If you would like to use the animated video for media purposes please contact

Further information on coffee consumption and mental performance can be found here.


  1. EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) (2011) Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to caffeine and increased fat oxidation leading to a reduction in body fat mass (ID 735, 1484), increased energy expenditure leading to a reduction in body weight (ID 1487), increased alertness (ID 736, 1101, 1187, 1485, 1491, 2063, 2103) and increased attention (ID 736, 1485, 1491, 2375) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/20061. EFSA Journal, 9(4):2054.
  2. EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) (2011) Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to caffeine and increase in physical performance during short-term high-intensity exercise (ID 737, 1486, 1489), increase in endurance performance (ID 737, 1486), increase in endurance capacity (ID 1488) and reduction in the rated perceived exertion/effort during exercise (ID 1488, 1490) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. EFSA Journal, 9(4):2053.
  3. Harland B.F. (2000) Caffeine and nutrition. Nutrition, 7/8:522-526.
  4. Fredholm B.B. et al. (1999) Actions of caffeine in the brain with special reference to factors that contribute to its widespread use. Pharmacol Rev, 51:83-133.
  5. Sharwood L.N. et al. (2013) Use of caffeinated substances and risk of crashes in long distance drivers of commercial vehicles: case control study. BMJ, 346:1140.
  6. Philip P. et al. (2006) The effects of coffee and napping on nighttime highway driving: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med, 144:785-91.
  7. Ker K. et al. (2010) Caffeine for the prevention of injuries and errors in shift workers. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, (5):CD008508.
  8. Retey J.V. et al. (2007) A genetic variation in the adenosine A2A receptor gene (ADORA2A) contributes to individual sensitivity to caffeine effects on sleep. Clin Pharmacol Ther, 81:692–8.
  9. Byrne E.M. et al. (2012) A genome-wide association study of caffeine related sleep disturbance: confirmation of a role for a common variant in the adenosine receptor. Sleep, 35(7):967-75.
  10. Robillard R. et al. (2015) Sleep is more sensitive to high doses of caffeine in the middle years of life. J Psychopharmacol, 29(6):688-97.
  11. Clark I. & Landolt H.P. (2016) Coffee, Caffeine, and Sleep. Sleep Med Rev, published online ahead of print.
  12. EFSA (2015) Scientific Opinion on the Safety of Caffeine. EFSA Journal, 13(5):4102.

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