An Accidental Placebo Effect

It’s close to bed time and myself and Ms. Thomas march to the kettle to prepare for our traditional tea and a chat before we go our separate ways. We did not expect the revelation we were about to encounter. I slipped a chai tea bag into my mug and left and room, Thomas call’s from the kitchen ‘you switchin’ to chai?’ I reply with a sense of sensibility, ‘I better!’ after all, work in the morning.

Without hesitation, she slips a chai tea bag into the second mug and before her very eyes; two cups of chai tea have been prepared. Thomas doesn’t drink chai tea. We laugh at the confusion as she takes a sip of the hot beverage she had not planned on consuming. Our chat is directed towards tea and Thomas ponders why I drink chai tea at night whereas I’d normally opt for a good ole’ cup of Barry’s during the daylight hours. I refer to the fact that the caffeine in teas keeps me awake all night, but, to be honest never checked if there was any caffeine in chai tea to begin with. Either way, I’ve never had a problem sleeping after a cup so my question was answered.

Tea is another common source of caffeine. Although tea contains more caffeine than coffee (by dry weight), a typical serving contains much less, as tea is normally brewed much weaker.

Knowing I had Google open, the curiosity grew too much for me and I consulted the web for ease of mind. To my absolute surprise (and most likely not to others) I find that chai tea has roughly the same about of caffeine per mug as your regular cup. ‘Crap!’ I cried ‘Now I won’t be able to sleep tonight.’ Thomas pulls a puzzled expression on her face and replies ‘Because NOW you know chai tea has caffeine in it?’

Another conversation ending in laughing hysterically.

But is caffeine keeping me up at night because I think it should? Is it all in my head?

Caffeine, like most drugs affects people differently, depending on weight, degree of tolerance, time of day, dosage and so on. But we all recognise that feeling of alertness after a strong cup of coffee or maybe that jittery feeling after a bit too much.

What gives us this alertness?

Caffeine crosses the blood-brain barrier and stimulates the Central Nervous System (CNS). By doing this, it blocks an enzyme called Adenosine whose properties are to suppress neural activity and increase blood flow, causing relaxation. When caffeine takes the place of Adenosine we get that kick that has us running to work, ready to start a new day.

So what side effects should we expect besides the energy boost? We could be resulted to feelings of irritability, insomnia, dizziness, headaches, restlessness and if we consume more frequently, a higher tolerance, addiction and nasty withdrawal symptoms.

So how come I found it easier to sleep when I thought chai tea had no caffeine in it?

A paper called Caffeine expectancies influence the subjective and behavioural effects of caffeine (Harrell PTJuliano LM.) answers my exact question.

Caffeine is a pyscoactive drug and should be avoided at night, however, your mind is a powerful stimulant as well, so you’re probably not getting as much as a boost as you think you are. During the study all subjects were told they were drinking real coffee, whereas, half were on decaffeinated coffee (the placebo). The study showed that subjects on the decaf preformed just as well on cognitive tasks as the subjects not taking the placebo.

So there you go, maybe I am giving caffeine more credit than it’s worth and I have no reason to be lying awake all night… is it 4a.m already?

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One response to “An Accidental Placebo Effect

  1. Strange tribal cultures […] engineer[ing] a nation in which coffee would become a huge social problem http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-15265317

    @therophyte

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