Is coffee good for creativity?

coffee cup and beans

Many swear by their daily quota of coffee to get them through the day.

It’s not uncommon to hear people claim it necessary to “get them going” in the morning or to bolster their concentration mid-afternoon.

However, health experts disagree on the relative merits that coffee provides when it comes to creativity and cognitive function…

Caffeine-fuelled genius

If you’re among the proponents of coffee’s mind-boosting properties, you’re in good company.

Jean-Paul Sartre, Francis Bacon, Glenn Gould, Proust, Gustav Mahler and even Beethoven credited it with aiding their creative abilities.

French novelist Honoré de Balzac was another champion of the stimulating drink, writing:

“Coffee glides into one’s stomach and sets all of one’s mental processes in motion. One’s ideas advance in column of route like battalions of the Grande Armée. Memories come up at the double, bearing the standards which will lead the troops into battle. The light cavalry deploys at the gallop. The artillery of logic thunders along with its supply wagons and shells. Brilliant notions join in the combat as sharpshooters. The characters don their costumes, the paper is covered with ink, the battle has started, and ends with an outpouring of black fluid like a real battlefield enveloped in swaths of black smoke from the expended gunpowder. Were it not for coffee one could not write, which is to say one could not live.”

With such intellectual heavyweights in the supporters camp, is it really true that coffee improves one’s creativity?

The case for:

Caffeine works as follows:

Cyclic AMP gives you energy.  Caffeine inhibits the function of the enzyme in your body which breaks down cyclic AMP, which is why coffee might be considered an indirect stimulant, simply removing the brakes from your body’s own energy production.

The effect in most people is a greater level of concentration (in some cases, maybe even bordering on obsessive tendencies), alertness and improved focus.

How it affects creativity, however, is likely to vary between individuals.

The case against:

The reason for this may be that the laser-like focus associated with coffee drinking only aids creativity to a degree.

Coffee can be extremely useful in helping you to settle down to work, keeping your mind focused on the task at hand, and even trigger quick-fire ideas one after the other on any particular subject – as Balzac testified.

However, the drawback of this is that caffeine prevents your focus from dissipating.  It doesn’t allow your mind to wander in the way that it does when your system is clear of caffeine and stress hormones.

Caffeine can also disturb your sleep.

Most of us have used coffee at one time or another to keep us awake whilst we burned the midnight oil. But, if your daily consumption is making it difficult for you to drop off at night, you might want to reconsider your coffee habit.

Lack of sleep can dramatically impair your cognitive function, and therefore creativity, so if you’re a coffee enthusiast, it’s important to balance your intake with the benefits.

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