Does Caffeine Improve Your Memory?

Looking for something to super-size your memory

One theory out there is that caffeine, which has been associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease when consumed in midlife, can also help improve your cognitive functioning long before the typical age of onset of Alzheimer's disease (which is usually after age 70). For the millions out there who love their daily coffee, this could be the perfect reason to keep that morning routine. (Not that you need a reason.)

Man smiling over a white mug
Steve Debenport Collection: E+ / Getty Images

What the Research Says

The research is promising, but it isn't definitive. And it isn't clear how long the benefits last, or whether caffeine actually improves memory—or just improves focus and attention.

Image memory: A study conducted at Johns Hopkins University involved 160 male and female participants who were shown images to view. Five minutes later they were given a 200mg caffeine pill or a placebo (fake). Twenty-four hours later, the participants who received the pill with the caffeine in it showed an improvement in their memory of those images compared to those who received a placebo pill.

According to the researchers, administering the pill after the images were shown demonstrates that the caffeine improved the participants' memory, rather than other skills, such as concentration or focus.

Spatial memory: A study compared regular caffeine consumers to those who did not consume caffeine on a frequent basis. The results showed that when both groups consumed caffeine, their map-memorizing ability (a measure of their spatial memory) improved. Interestingly, those who were habitual caffeine consumers showed less of a benefit from the caffeine dose as compared to those who infrequently consumed caffeine.

Caffeine plus sugar: One study measured the combination of caffeine and glucose (sugar) and found that when administered together, the participants' reaction time, verbal memory, and attention were improved when compared to those who received only caffeine, only glucose, or a placebo.

Bees and scents: Another study found that bees who consume caffeine are more likely to remember floral scents than bees who consumed sucrose. Of course, the question with this type of study is whether that translates to humans or not.

Conflicting Results

Other studies cast doubt on the benefits of caffeine for our memories. One such study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, reviewed research conducted on caffeine and cognition (thinking and memory skills) and concluded that caffeine's benefits are limited to moderately increasing our focus, mood, and concentration, rather than our memories.

Caffeinated Beverages

Many beverages and foods contain caffeine—not just coffee. But the results aren't the same for all of them.

For example, one study involved women older than age 65 who had cardiovascular disease (and thus a higher risk of cognitive decline related to vascular dementia). The study measured their caffeine intake and performed cognitive assessments at regular intervals over five years.

The results showed that the women who had higher levels of caffeine intake, specifically from coffee – not from colas or tea – performed better on cognitive tests than those who consumed less caffeine.

Energy Drinks

A group of researchers set out to determine if energy drinks, which contain high levels of caffeine, improve cognitive functioning. While they increase wakefulness, participants (ages15-18) who consumed energy drinks did not show any significant difference in their cognitive function when compared to those who drank a placebo.

Caffeinated Gum

Want a different way to ingest caffeine besides coffee? According to one research study, caffeinated herbal gum was shown to be effective in improving memory.

Personality Traits

Extroverted? Another study found that working memory was significantly improved with caffeine consumption, but only saw this benefit in adults who were extroverted.

A second study aimed to replicate this finding. The researchers in this study found that serial recall and memory of those who were extroverted and consumed caffeine improved, and also found that caffeine improved the speed of reaction and ability to receive new information.

Precautions

For some people, there are health risks with even low levels of caffeine, and very high levels have been shown to have the possibility of being detrimental to your health.

Side effects of caffeine can vary depending on your overall health, how much you consume, and what medications you take. Also, you might have more severe side effects if you consume caffeine without eating.

Some side effects can include:

A Word From Verywell

Research about caffeine's effect on memory and other cognitive processes shows that it might be beneficial in the short term—and possibly in the long term too. The results vary significantly, but there does appear to be general support for the idea that caffeine boosts cognitive functioning. Keep in mind that taking care of your cognitive functioning also means getting enough sleep, avoiding head injuries, and maintaining your emotional well-being. So beware of any claim that only considers one approach—popping a pill won't be as beneficial as preventing damage to your brain, getting enough rest, and taking care of your own mental health.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Esther Heerema, MSW
Esther Heerema, MSW, shares practical tips gained from working with hundreds of people whose lives are touched by Alzheimer's disease and other kinds of dementia.