Does Coffee Improve Focus?


"My friend lets her 10-year-old drink coffee every day before school. She says the caffeine helps him focus. Is this true?"

Dr. Larry Silver specializes in treating children with attention deficit disorder (ADHD).

ADDitude Answers

Caffeine is a stimulant, and people have long wondered whether it could be used to treat ADHD.

But two major studies have shown that caffeine is not an effective treatment. While some of the children in these studies did report less “sluggishness,” caffeine can cause agitation and an increase in heart rate in young children — even more of a concern for kids already taking a stimulant medication. Thus, any benefits your friend’s son receives are probably outweighed by health risks.

If you’re wondering how to share your concern with your friend, you might say, “I was so excited by your discovery that I wrote to ADDitude. But Dr. Silver replied, saying that no studies support ‘treating’ ADHD with caffeine. I thought you should know...”

Posted by Larry Silver, M.D.

A Reader Answers

They say coffee is suppose to give you energy. They say Red Bull will give you wings...the weird thing is it does the complete opposite for me!

Over the years I have found coffee as a ‘temporary’ alternative treatment. Okay, I drink a cup of coffee and the effects maybe last somewhere between 30 minutes and 2 hours: a short-term effect. But it helps. I just used to think something was wrong with me. Everyone else would be itching for a cup of coffee to wake them up and speed them up. Ha, funny story: my child psychiatrist loves coffee. I told her about the effects it has on me. Of course, she already knew the effects it would have on me. But the thing was I was clueless. I said, “Well, why do you drink coffee?” She goes, “Not the same reasons you do! Coffee gives me energy, whereas it calms you down.” I’m a little curious on why that is. Another weird effect is when I drink Red Bull, I fall asleep!! It knocks me out. One minute I could be bouncing off the walls, talking, talking, talking...the next I’m drowsy and ready for bed?! Everyone else drinks Red Bull to make them hyper (which I don’t understand why they would want to feel such a thing) but they do. So, I’m like an addict now. Every morning I make a trip through Starbucks before heading to school. The purpose is to keep my symptoms mild as my meds kick in, so I don’t get myself into any trouble in my morning classes. It seems to work out great. I even sometimes make a pot of coffee while doing my homework (as my meds wear down in the evening) it again, helps. Also, gets me to lay down at night and drift off to sleep. Anyone else find coffee to be helpful?

Posted by Jonzie8

A Reader Answers

ADHD medications are stimulants, so caffeine is a (milder) alternative. My friend gave her daughter either strong tea or a caffeine pill every morning before grade 2, and it eased her symptoms so much her teacher started telling other parents about it. I guess the theory is that with ADHD, the neurotransmitters are not working up to snuff, and the brain tries to “wake itself up” with the hyperactivity, so caffeine wakes up the brain instead, calming down the behavior.

Posted by OopsForgotAgain

A Reader Answers

All I can say is coffee has been a life changer for me. I was diagnosed with ADHD as a child, and I'm now 24. I took Ritalin for a few years as a child but haven't taken anything for 14 years or so. I just started drinking coffee a year ago because my husband liked it and its effects on me were great, it calms me down in so many ways and helps me concentrate. I cannot live without my coffee.

Posted by Missbrowneyes

A Reader Answers

Funny, I’ve always felt envious of people who enjoy the benefits from coffee. There are a lot of Cubans where I live (South Florida) and I can drink a few Cuban espresso shots before I get any worthwhile results. I’ve always been “chatty” but when I take stimulants I can’t shut up even when I’m tired. My little brain is always clicking. So when a doctor prescribed Adderall, I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea. As a massage therapist, being chatty is a deal-breaker. Probably why I do better in a clinical setting, while a spa setting is never my niche.

People told me that the stimulant ADHD meds would “calm me down.” Let me tell you, that’s not how I see it. From an insider's perspective stimulants stimulate — that's what they do! However, because they make your brain work better, you process information better, you can stay on task and be focused. I believe this makes a person appear to be calmer because they aren’t running in circles tying to keep their thoughts and/or projects straight. Also, because the meds help you think straight, you become more organized and you’re not spacing-out trying to find things, remember things, or do all you want to do. But take it from me, if you take stimulants, organized and focused does not equate to “calm.” Some days I take a day off from taking the meds because I’m anxious or ticked off about something and stimulants make those things worse. That said, I do love how the meds have made me a higher functioning, more organized, productive person. But I still struggle with the “speedy side effects” of Adderall. If I’m nervous (like with new clients) or jazzed up (like with clients or people I like to talk to) I have to remind myself NOT to dominate the conversation. My husband still tells me he feels like sometimes I’m talking AT him and not TO him. He’ll get up and walk away just to get a break from my intense energy. But when I channel it into something useful or creative, it’s awesome!

Posted by Baby Rhino

A Reader Answers

I find that certain products with caffeine have different effects on me. I don’t like the taste of coffee so I don’t really know how that effects me. Caffeine in soft drinks really doesn’t have a big effect on me, really. Vivarin puts me to sleep, while NoDoz wakes me up and keeps me very alert. If I take Excedrin for migraines, it has the same effect as NoDoz. After about two weeks, the effects aren’t as strong or it just doesn’t work at all so I have to alternate or just take the NoDoz on days when I need to really focus and get something done. Red Bull only has a very short term effect and I feel worse after it wears off.

My son and I are both ADHDers but I think sugar keeps his motor running more so than it does for me. He love Mountain Dew so I’m starting to let him drink it in the morning to give him a boost before class. I also find that he does better if he takes his shower in the morning as opposed to at night, he seems to wake up better and faster.

Posted by CaramelADD

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Larry Silver, M.D., is clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown Medical Center in Washington, D.C. and director of training in child and adolescent psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. He is a former acting director and deputy director of the National Institute of Mental Health, as well as the author of Dr. Larry Silver's Advice to Parents on AD/HD and The Misunderstood Child: Understanding and Coping with Your Child's Learning Disabilities.
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