Is daily caffeine consumption beneficial to productivity?

post by ChristianKl · 2019-11-26T13:13:05.613Z · score: 18 (8 votes) · LW · GW · 12 comments

This is a question post.

Contents

  Answers
    13 SatvikBeri
    2 bendini
None
12 comments

Caffeine raises human alertness by binding to adenosine receptors in the human brain. It prevents those receptors from binding adenosine and suppressing activity in the central nervous system.

Regular caffeine productions seems to result in the body building more adenosine receptors, but it's unclear to me whether or not the body produces enough adenosine receptors to fully cancel out the effect. Did anybody look deeper into the issue and knows the answer?

Answers

answer by SatvikBeri · 2019-11-26T17:17:29.391Z · score: 13 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

One major confounder is that caffeine is also a painkiller, many people have mild chronic pain, and I think there's a very plausible mechanism by which painkillers improve productivity, i.e. just allowing someone to focus better.

Anecdotally, I've noticed that "resetting" caffeine tolerance is very quick compared to most drugs, taking something like 2-3 days without caffeine for several people I know, including myself.

The studies I could find on caffeine are highly contradictory, e.g. from Wikipedia, "Caffeine has been shown to have positive, negative, and no effects on long-term memory."

I'm under the impression that there's no general evidence for stimulants increasing productivity, although there are several specific cases, such as e.g. treating ADHD.

answer by bendini · 2019-11-26T13:31:58.930Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes. When it comes to tolerance of stimulant drugs, there is such thing as a free lunch.

While you will get some tolerance, and ceasing use will give you some withdrawal effects, tolerance will eventually plateau unless you are taking far more than you should be. After tolerance is accounted for, using caffeine will still give you a higher baseline of productivity than taking nothing at all.

comment by ChristianKl · 2019-11-26T15:01:17.280Z · score: 11 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How do you know?

comment by bendini · 2019-11-27T14:25:29.218Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I deliberately avoided giving a citation because I don't remember which paper I read that confirmed it, so searching for one that backs up a cached memory to appear more rigorous would be bad epistemic practice.

Instead, my confidence that this is true rests on several pieces of circumstantial evidence:

  • My experience for it working this way for other drugs.
  • The SSC survey where the majority of people reported not becoming dependant on other stimulants at therapeutic doses over the long term.
  • The fact that coffee has become universal to workplace culture (metis knowledge)
  • The fact that even if coffee gave you a focus boost that nets to 0, being able to borrow energy from the 2/3rd of the day you aren't working into the 1/3 that you are would still boost net productivity.
  • The fact that I used to believe that I was being clever by never using caffeine because of the idea that there is no free lunch and changed my mind a few years ago.
  • Other things I can't recall right now but I know I could recall them if I sat down for several hours trying to remember them. (How could I possibly know this? it happens on a regular basis)

I don't necessarily expect you to believe it, but it occurred to me that the implicit choice between:

A. showing you the watertight meta-analysis that I've spent a week going over with a fine-tooth comb .

B. saying nothing at all and likely leaving you with no responses because everyone else assumes a response needs to do A to be worth giving.

...is one of the reasons why LessWrong is a terrible place to find practical knowledge.

I'd be happy to bet on it being true at at least 4 to 1 odds, although you will have to devise an objective test that can be judged true or false on the original question rather than the proxy question. Then again, even saying I'm willing to bet doesn't mean much as a bet of $100 still wouldn't be worth your time to organise on a financial basis. This makes the bet less likely and therefore boosts the credibility of an argument with a costly signal that's actually far less costly than it appears. (This is currently an open problem.)


comment by Douglas_Knight · 2019-11-27T15:49:43.889Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You are now making a different claim than your first comment (which was probably false and is definitely is contradicted by papers).

comment by philh · 2019-11-28T09:26:57.898Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I read him as making additional claims, not just entirely different ones.

comment by ChristianKl · 2019-11-27T17:21:48.362Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A and B aren't the only choices. You don't need to show a watertight meta-analysis to state why you believe what you believe and be explicit about your uncertainty.

12 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Benquo · 2019-11-26T15:07:00.737Z · score: 8 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This question seems to conflate the claim that caffeine works as a stimulant, and the claim that in a meaningful sense stimulants increase productivity. I suspect this is true for measured productivity, but not at all obviously true for net production.

(Related: Talents [LW · GW], Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich)

comment by toonalfrink · 2019-11-26T20:16:30.591Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think this is the right question to ask. Even if the net alertness gain of a cup of coffee is 0, it is still worth consuming during those moments that alertness is worth more, and abstaining during those moments where relaxation is worth more. Net alertness is not net EV.

comment by ChristianKl · 2019-11-26T22:17:01.347Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are different ways to consume caffeine. A lot of people consume caffeine as part of their morning routine. It's useful to know whether or not that increases productivity even when there are also other ways to consume caffeine.

comment by jmh · 2019-11-26T23:38:45.214Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The answer there might also depend on how we're defining productivity.

I was reading some links earlier about longevity and biological processes/genetic processes (if that makes any sense...) that were linking neurological over-activity (which seems to be neurons being electrically active even when not really doing anything) to shorter lives and more rapid aging.

If caffeine serves to dampen down unnecessary activity that might lead to slower aging (ability to be more productive at a given age) and living longer so more total productivity.

re SatvikBeri's wiki observations, does that sound like a training rats to go 3 doors down type setting?

comment by ChristianKl · 2019-11-27T01:43:46.930Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Caffeine stops surpression of neural activity. That's likely leading to more activity. At the same time there's some evidence that points at caffeine being positive for lifespan like https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2018/coffee-longevity-health-benefits.html and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3922918/ .

comment by jmh · 2019-11-28T00:24:22.093Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

misread and though you were saying the caffeine was suppressing -- not that it was preventing the suppression!

comment by Mary Chernyshenko (mary-chernyshenko) · 2019-11-29T17:16:20.451Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Over what timescale? Weeks, months, years, decades?

comment by ChristianKl · 2019-12-01T17:34:49.206Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you have answers that are specific to a timescale I'm happy to hear them.

comment by ioannes_shade · 2019-12-01T22:03:10.244Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I drink 1-2 big cups of coffee a day. (Always one in the morning, sometimes another in the early afternoon, often the one in the early afternoon is half-caff.)

I find it consistently helpful – boosted focus & "it's fun to do stuff" energy for 3-4 hours, minimal crash, no trouble sleeping.

I think it's very much YMMV though... my partner is way more sensitive to caffeine than I am, and drinking coffee substantially increases her baseline anxiety.

Also, coffee seems to be good for longevity!

comment by ChristianKl · 2019-12-01T22:56:53.068Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have you stopped drinking it sometime for two weeks and noticed that you had less energy afterwards?

comment by ioannes_shade · 2019-12-02T04:19:38.021Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I accidentally started withdrawing from caffeine a few months ago. It was pretty unpleasant – very low-energy & drowsy throughout the day plus a mild headache.

I drank coffee the next morning because I wanted to stop withdrawing.

I take the consistent boost of energy & focus after drinking coffee as pretty strong energy that it's working for me. (If it's just a placebo effect, it's a great placebo effect.)

Randomizing here would be difficult because of the withdrawal effects.

comment by Mary Chernyshenko (mary-chernyshenko) · 2019-12-01T21:13:12.594Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I drink coffee once in about two to three months. It increases my productivity for about three hours, once it kicks in, and ruins my next day and a half (especially the night). It's probably different for people who keep a pool of caffeine in them, I think.