New Study Finds Caffeine In Coffee Isn't The Only Thing That Wakes Us Up

While an old jingle might have touted one coffee brand as "the best part of waking up," there's a reason people reach for a mug as soon as their eyes slowly adjust to starting the day. However, according to a recent Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience study, that jolt of alertness might not exclusively come from the beans' caffeine. In fact, your morning routine might be brewing a more complete awakening: After comparing MRI scans from caffeinated coffee drinkers versus hot water-infused caffeine drinkers, the study found that the coffee drinkers were more alert.

Overall, the neurological study found that the "context of coffee consumption" has an impact on "emotionality, alertness, and action readiness." The study's authors explored a person's need to have that morning coffee and the assumption that the process of brewing and drinking coffee creates a routine. Taken as a complete experience, the notion of waking up isn't solely about the caffeine boost, but also about the ritual's psychological and sensory effects leading to getting ready for the day.

Maybe that coffee jingle was right. The waking up starts as the hot water hits the coffee grounds and ends when the mug is empty.

Scientists offer insight on coffee's ability to wake us up

After the Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience study revealed that coffee's ability to wake people up is more about the process versus the caffeine, some scientists sought to explain the findings. John Hopkins neuroscience adjunct professor Mark Mattson suggested to NBC News that it is the perception of making and enjoying that brewed coffee which activates certain brain regions. The whole process stimulates that awakening feeling. From aroma to sipping, each aspect elicits a response. 

Dr. Uma Naidoo explained to NBC News that the coffee's visual impact is important to foster that awake feeling. A person is reacting to the total stimuli. It isn't a placebo effect, but rather a representation that triggers an awakening response. 

Meanwhile, W. Christopher Winter, M.D. told Prevention that a morning routine, including coffee consumption, can shake off that bout of tiredness. The habit of ingesting a particular beverage creates a mind-body connection. That feeling of being ready to start the day can be as important as the stimulant brewed in the cup. Even if there are rushed moments getting out the door, your coffee ritual itself might offer an additional jolt to get the day on track.