They say that acceptance is the first step, so here I am proclaiming loudly and proudly that I am completely addicted to coffee. Whilst I can perhaps not compete with Honoré de Balzac (a French author) who used to pulverise coffee beans into a fine dust before snacking on the powder for breakfast lunch and dinner. A habit which unsurprisingly, led to his premature death at 51. I still remain in awe over the deep hues and velvet tones of that first morning cup. In fact, the writing of this article is largely being fuelled by sips of my mandatory morning caffeine.
So it was with shock and genuine horror that I read an article by Maria Konnikova in the New Yorker that claimed caffeine hinders creativity. A statement that somewhat rained on my twenty yearlong parade filled with glorious, indulgent cups of coffee.
For those of you are not intimately acquainted with the science behind caffeine, the reason it helps you feel more awake is because it blocks the adenosine receptors in your body. The purpose of adenosine in your body is to lower your energy levels and help you sleep. Which can come in mightily handy when flagging at your desk, at work, at 3pm on a Friday afternoon. However, it also makes you hyper-focused, which Konnikova’s argues (and sadly rather convincingly) works against the favour of creatives whom are most inspired when their minds are allowed to wander. (An argument, that unfortunately never seemed to hold much sway in my school days.) When our minds are free we also increase communication between the parts of our brains that are most helpful with problem solving (a state known as default mode network for the geeks amongst you.)
I also came across another problem associated with caffeine. According to a fair few scientific studies caffeine has been shown to effect Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep patterns, lowering the quality of sleep as well as increasing the amount of time it took to fall asleep at night. Now, as a proud father with a teething baby I appreciate the importance of a good night’s sleep (mainly because they are currently so few and far between) and I know that a good kip is the perfect motivator to a glorious day’s work. If coffee can indeed decrease my ability to get some beauty sleep, there is really no question this will affect my creative spark.
This all being said, after reading many many articles on the pros and cons of a coffee (I fell into a sort of Googling frenzy), the key is balance. Having a couple of cups a day is fine and dandy (although if you are a creative you should probably make sure to find a way to relax that can help boost your “default mode” network.) However, caffeine is a drug and if you are finding yourself oddly tempted by Balzac’s methodology, it may be time to simply sleep more and drink less.