Drinking coffee helps to improve mood as days get shorter

By | October 31, 2021
  • A pan-European consumer survey reveals increased sadness levels, heightened anxiety and reduced motivation to exercise when hours of daylight decrease [1]
  • One in five adults in the survey say they drink coffee to improve their mood, with research suggesting that 75mg of caffeine every four hours can result in a pattern of sustained improvement of mood over the day [2]
  • Lifestyle measures that contribute to improvements in mood and wellbeing include a good diet and regular exercise [3], [4]

October 29th 2021 – As countries across Europe prepare to put the clocks back for winter, a pan-European survey funded by the Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee, exploring the impact of lifestyle and diet choices on mood, has found that over a quarter of adults across Europe experience depression (28%) and increased feelings of sadness (28%) as daylight hours decrease [1].

The consumer survey of over 5,000 adults across the UK, Italy, Finland, Germany and Poland also revealed that as hours of daylight decrease respondents become more anxious (21%), find it harder to concentrate (24%), lose motivation to exercise (25%) and see a dip in sports performance (21%) [1].

During the darker, colder months of the year some people can suffer from persistent low mood, loss of pleasure or interest in normal activities, and a lack of energy, commonly known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD typically presents itself in the autumn and winter, with remission during spring or summer [5].

According to scientific research, lifestyle measures such as a good diet and regular exercise are known to contribute to improvements in mood and wellbeing [3], [4]. Research also indicates that regular coffee intake can lead to an improvement in most cognitive measures and moods [6] as well as decreased reaction times and increased alertness [7].

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Assistant Professor Giuseppe Grosso, Department of Biomedical and Biotechnological Sciences, School of Medicine, University of Catania, commented: “There is evidence that coffee polyphenols may pass the blood-brain barrier, exert anti-neuroinflammatory effects and even promote neurogenesis, hence resulting in decreased risk of both cognitive and affective disorders” [8-11].

The survey also looked at coffee drinking habits related to shorter days, with the survey suggesting the main motivation for drinking coffee for 29% adults during this time was to feel more energised; 20% said they drank coffee to improve their mood and emotions, while 21% said it helped with alertness or concentration [1].

Coffee and mood improvement, stimulated alertness and improved concentration
A review of existing research has suggested that 75mg of caffeine (the equivalent of one cup of coffee) every four hours can result in a pattern of sustained improvement of mood over the day [2]. Additional research found that coffee aroma may enhance working memory and stimulate alertness [12]. Further research found that in addition to using caffeine to feel awake, people use it for the social aspects of consumption, to improve concentration; as well as to increase physical energy and improve mood [13].

Coffee can also act as brain stimulant: heightening alertness, keeping arousal, improving executive speed, maintaining vigilance, and promoting memory, which are associated with attention, mood, and cognitive function [14]. Mood is not only modulated by caffeine itself but also by the expectation of having consumed caffeine, which improves mood together with attention [15].

For those lacking the energy to exercise during winter, coffee may help too. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that there is an association between caffeine consumption and an increase in endurance performance (aerobic exercise lasting over 5 minutes), endurance capacity and a reduction in the rated perceived effort or exertion during exercise [16].

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The Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee will be releasing a video outlining the negative impact winter months can have on mood and the role that moderate coffee consumption may play in improving this.

To find out more about the scientific research on coffee and health visit: www.coffeeandhealth.org


  1. Censuswide pan European adults survey (March, 2021)
  2. Nehlig A. (2010) Is Caffeine a Cognitive Enhancer? J Alzheimers Dis. 20(S1):85-94
  3. Sarris J., et al. (2020) Multiple lifestyle factors and depressed mood: a cross-sectional and longitudinal analysis of the UK Biobank (N = 84,860). BMC Med, 18, 354
  4. Firth J., et al. (2020) Food and mood: how do diet and nutrition affect mental well being? BMJ, 369:m2382
  5. Kurlansik S.L., Ibay A.D. (2012) Seasonal Affective Disorder. Am Fam Physician, 1;86(11):1037-41
  6. Boolani A., et al. (2020) Caffeine-Containing, Adaptogenic-Rich Drink Modulates the Effects of Caffeine on Mental Performance and Cognitive Parameters: A Double-Blinded, Placebo-Controlled, Randomized Trial. Nutrients. 12(7):1922
  7. Haskell-Ramsay CF., et al. (2018) The Acute Effects of Caffeinated Black Coffee on Cognition and Mood in Healthy Young and Older Adults. Nutrients. 10(10):1386
  8. Wasim S., et al. (2020) Neuroprotective and Neurodegenerative Aspects of Coffee and Its Active Ingredients in View of Scientific Literature. Cureus. Aug 5;12(8):e9578
  9. Vauzour, D. (2012) Dietary Polyphenols as Modulators of Brain Functions: Biological Actions and Molecular Mechanisms Underpinning Their Beneficial Effects. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, vol. 2012, Article ID 914273
  10. Nabavi, S.F., et al. (2017) Chlorogenic Acid and Mental Diseases: From Chemistry to Medicine. Current Neuropharmacology, 15(4):471-479
  11. Bayes, J., et al. (2020) Effects of Polyphenols in a Mediterranean Diet on Symptoms of Depression: A Systematic Literature Review. Advances in Nutrition, 11(3)
  12. Hawiset T. (2019) Effect of one-time coffee fragrance inhalation on working memory, mood, and salivary cortisol level in healthy young volunteers: a randomized placebo-controlled trial. Integr Med Res. 8(4):273-278
  13. Mahoney C., et al. (2018) Intake of caffeine from all sources and reasons for use by college students. Clin Nutr. 38(2):668-675
  14. Yuan Y., et al. (2020) Caffeine Effect on Cognitive Function during a Stroop Task: fNIRS Study, Neural Plast. 2020:8833134
  15. Dawkins L. et al. (2011) Expectation of having consumed caffeine can improve performance and mood. Appetite, 57:597-600.
  16. EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) (2011) Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to caffeine and increase in physical performance during short-term high-intensity exercise (ID 737, 1486, 1489), increase in endurance performance (ID 737, 1486), increase in endurance capacity (ID 1488) and reduction in the rated perceived exertion/effort during exercise (ID 1488, 1490) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. EFSA Journal, 9(4): 2053.
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Notes to editors

  • Moderate coffee consumption can be defined as 3–5 cups per day, based on the European Food Safety Authority’s review of caffeine safety.

Expert details

  • Giuseppe Grosso, Department of Biomedical and Biotechnological Sciences, School of Medicine, University of Catania, Italy.

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