How Caffeine Consumption Can Affect Your Enjoyment Of Music

Most have a hard time getting through the day without their morning cup of joe. But does your morning beverage make it more challenging for you to enjoy the music you love?
coffee joke

Caffeine remains the world's most widely consumed psychoactive drug. A stimulant, it increases neuronal activity in the central nervous system, and can temporarily elevate alertness, mood, and awareness. It is most commonly found in coffee beans, tea leaves, energy drinks, soft drinks, and chocolate, and also appears in some prescription and non-prescription drugs.

Considering its widespread popularity and usage, it is likely that our interactions with caffeine will intersect at some point with other chemically induced experiences in our lives. One that immediately comes to my mind is the dopamine rush we receive from listening to a great song. Music appreciation is universal, and it's not hard to imagine that most people would enjoy sipping a cup of coffee while humming to the radio on their way to work.

But does caffeine improve the experience? Or does it take something away from our ability to appreciate a song? This article will explore the effects of caffeine consumption on our ability to listen to and enjoy the music we love.

The Effects of Caffeine Immediately after Ingestion

The effects of caffeine may begin as early as fifteen minutes after consumption, and peak within thirty to sixty. It is during this time that you are most likely to experience the “jittery” effects of caffeine. Being a mild diuretic, you might also urinate more frequently. If you possess a caffeine sensitivity, you might feel these and other symptoms for several hours or even days after consumption.

For most, however, caffeine possesses a half-life of five hours, so it is recommended that users abstain from caffeine consumption for at least six hours before bedtime. Being a stimulant, caffeine reduces fatigue and drowsiness, and at normal doses improves reaction time, wakefulness, concentration, and motor coordination.

Still, there are downsides, as caffeine consumption can lead to mild anxiety, jitteriness, and insomnia, and at high doses often produces headaches and muscle tremors. Consuming too much daily caffeine on a regular basis has in fact been linked to increased episodes of heartburn and changes in bowel habits, and at five to ten grams it can be lethal. So try to pace yourself.

How Caffeine Interacts with Music

caffeine and music
Image Source: Pexels

So assuming you're afflicted with one or more of these unwanted side effects, consuming caffeinated beverages could negatively impact your experience with a song.

Otherwise, however, it's possible that caffeine could heighten your enjoyment of the experience. According to one study, participants who consumed two or four hundred milligrams of caffeine did not feel as bored relative to other participants. On the other hand, such participants did report higher feelings of anxiousness, tenseness, and nervousness, and did not feel as relaxed as they had been prior to consumption.

The benefits of these feelings are more complex when paired with music. To give an example, a song meant to induce feelings of anxiousness, tenseness, or nervousness might be more enjoyable if mixed with some caffeine, as the latter can help provoke the desired feelings. More mellow songs, in contrast, might have the opposite effect, as caffeine can make users less relaxed when listening.

Personally, when I'm listening to a fast-paced song with an exhilarating feel (e.g., "Brother Sky" by Ripe) the jitteriness from a coffee or energy drink only adds to the experience. Sad songs unfortunately don't pair as well with caffeine, in my honest opinion. The stimulation from a nice spot of tea seems to work against the calming feelings one might derive from Mazzy Star's "Look On Down From The Bridge", for example.

Throwing Another Substance into the Mix

Moreover, caffeine can interact with a number of different substances. When mixed with alcohol, for instance, the stimulating effects of caffeine can mask the former's depressant effects, and make the consumer feel more alert than they otherwise would have been. As a result, users may drink more alcohol and become more impaired than they realize, heightening the risk of alcohol-attributable harm.

When mixed with birth control pills, the half-life of caffeine is extended, staying in the user's system for longer. Important to note is that this list is not limited to these two substances alone. Other drugs and food items can interact with caffeine, and caution should be taken when mixing it with other substances.

Although impossible to adequately describe every physical improvement or limitation produced when mixing caffeine with another substance, it's clear that they may either amplify or weaken the effects caffeine has on our ability to connect with a piece of music.

Interaction effects extend to different emotional states as well. One study found that the interaction of high levels of stress and high intake of caffeine was associated with auditory hallucinations in non-clinical participants. An experience, that would impact one's ability to enjoy their favorite tune.

Another study found that, albeit in guinea pigs, a daily dose of caffeine could impair the recovery of hearing loss. Another reason to take caution when ingesting a caffeinated substance.

Why These Experiences Might Be the Norm for Many

As strange an idea as this may seem, many folks today spend a good deal of their time listening to music on high doses of caffeine. Different cultures obviously have different habits, but it is important to note that caffeine remains prevalent in much of the western world.

According to a 2019 survey of American coffee drinkers, 9% of coffee drinkers in the United States drank six or more cups of coffee on average per week—a number that runs into the millions.

Another survey from the Kantar Worldpanel Beverage Consumption Panel estimated that 85% of Americans over the age of two are consuming at least one caffeinated drink per day. That doesn't necessarily mean that millions of Americans are abusing caffeine per se, but its prevalence does increase the risk of users developing a dependence or addiction, and its ubiquity can make quitting even harder.

Those who decide to cut back face their own set of challenges. Abruptly decreasing caffeine consumption may cause withdrawal symptoms within twelve to twenty-four hours, some of which include headaches, fatigue, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. These symptoms usually decline after a few days, but they are by no means pleasant.

I can certainly attest to caffeine's stimulating yet addictive qualities and the struggles of limiting consumption. Heck, I drank some coffee before I wrote this article. But I digress. Anyone who attempts to listen to music during their withdrawal period will certainly have an awful go of it. Headaches don't often pair well with loud music.

I feel obligated to point out that this article is by no means an exhaustive list of the merits and drawbacks of caffeine usage. The jury is still out on many of these debates, and new research is always uncovering new findings.

How much caffeine do you find yourself consuming every day? Do you ever couple it with your favorite song? Next time compare and see if there is much of a difference.

Will I ever stop drinking as much coffee as I do? Perhaps, in time. But for now, I might just switch to decaf.

Michael Valeri is a recent graduate of Hamilton College. He enjoys origami, biking, and playing the kalimba. He hopes you like his work.

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