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Mental performance

Mental performance: Factsheet

The way researchers investigate the effects of food and food constituents on mental performance and our mood is extremely complex, as sensitive tests are required to identify and measure behaviors. In addition, direct effects of the diet will be mediated or modified by people’s expectations, as well as by their previous experiences.
February 1, 2017

The benefits of caffeine (through coffee consumption) on mental performance are well documented, and there is convincing evidence that moderate caffeine intake helps to improve alertness and concentration.

Coffee consumption and mental performance

  • A typical cup of coffee contains 75-100mg caffeine. A 75mg serving of caffeine leads to both increased attention and alertness, according to an opinion published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)1.
  • Studies confirm that caffeine can increase alertness and help concentration, and it may also improve mood and limit depression in some individuals2.
  • Caffeine can cause sleep disturbances in some people. However, a large variation in the effects of caffeine on sleep is seen between individuals, with genetic differences, age, habitual intakes and time of consumption known to play a role3.
  • Some studies suggest that caffeine abstinence could improve sleep, in the context of sleep quality, and the time it takes to fall asleep3-7. However, there are large differences between individuals and further research in this area is needed8-9.
  • There is some evidence to suggest potential benefits of coffee and caffeine in situations that require increased alertness, e.g. night shifts, overcoming jet lag, long-distance driving, and driving at night10-13.
  • Brain mapping technology indicates that caffeine is not associated with the brain circuit of dependence, and therefore does not fulfil the criteria to be described as a drug of dependence14.
  • In 2013, The American Psychiatric Association updated its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to include ‘caffeine withdrawal’ for the first time. They defined it as a syndrome resulting from abrupt cessation or reduction in caffeine following prolonged daily use15. Although abrupt cessation of caffeine consumption may induce withdrawal symptoms in a small number of individuals, these symptoms are generally mild, of short duration, and can be avoided by gradually reducing caffeine intake16.


  1. EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) (2011) Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to caffeine and increased fat oxidation leading to a reduction in body fat mass (ID 735, 1484), increased energy expenditure leading to a reduction in body weight (ID 1487), increased alertness (ID 736, 1101, 1187, 1485, 1491, 2063, 2013) and increased attention (ID 736, 1485, 1491, 2375) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/20061. EFSA Journal, 9(4):2054.
  2. Nehlig A. (2016) Effects of coffee/caffeine on brain health and disease: What should I tell my patients? Pract Neurol, 16(2):89-95.
  3. Clark I. and Landolt H.P. (2016) Coffee, Caffeine, and Sleep. Sleep Med Rev, 1016/j.smrv.2016.01.006, published online ahead of print.
  4. Roehrs T. et al. (2008) Caffeine: sleep and daytime sleepiness. Sleep Med Rev, 12:153-62.
  5. Sin C.W.M. et al. (2008) Systematic review on the effectiveness of caffeine abstinence on the quality of sleep. J Clin Nursing, 18:13-21.
  6. Drake C. et al. (2013) Caffeine Effects on Sleep Taken 0, 3, or 6 Hours before Going to Bed. J Clin Sleep Med, 9(11):1195-1200.
  7. Judice P.B. et al. (2013) A moderate dose of caffeine ingestion does not change energy expenditure but decreases sleep time in physically active males: a double-blind randomized controlled trial. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab, 38(1):49-56.
  8. Drapeau C. et al. (2006) Challenging sleep in aging: the effects of 200 mg of caffeine during the evening in young and middle-aged moderate caffeine consumers. J Sleep Res, 15:133-41.
  9. Carrier J. et al. (2009) Effects of caffeine on daytime recovery sleep: A double challenge to the sleep-wake cycle in aging. Sleep Med, 10:1016-24.
  10. Ker K. et al (2010) Caffeine for the prevention of injuries and errors in shift workers. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, (5):CD008508.
  11. Arendt J. (2009) Managing jet lag: Some of the problems and possible new solutions. Sleep Med Rev, 13:249-56.
  12. Sharwood L.N. et al. (2013) Use of caffeinated substances and risk of crashes in long distance drivers of commercial vehicles: case control study. BMJ, 346:1140.
  13. Philip P. et al. (2006) The effects of coffee and napping on nighttime highway driving: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med, 144:785-91.
  14. Nehlig A. et al. (2010) SPECT assessment of brain activation induced by caffeine: no effect on areas involved in dependence. Dialogues Clin Neurosci, 12:255-6363.
  15. American Psychiatric Association (2013) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM V) ISBN 978-0-89042-554-1DSMV.
  16. Nehlig A. (2004) Are we dependent on coffee and caffeine: an update. In Nehlig A, ed. Coffee, Tea, Chocolate and the Brain. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 133-146.