August is National Coffee Month. Kick off your celebration by learning how to be a smarter coffee consumer.

Maybe it's all those papers to write and deadlines to meet. Or the challenge of juggling course assignments with life's daily demands. Whatever the reason, coffee and college seem to go hand in hand.

And for adult learners in an online degree program, in particular— working late at night after the kids go to bed or in the wee hours of the morning before work – coffee is often your go-to study aid.

And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Health benefits of coffee

Outside of the obvious perk of staying awake to finish reading or complete a discussion post, coffee offers a host of health benefits.

Studies have shown that drinking coffee can help improve short- and long-term memory, lower your chances of developing depression and decrease risks of certain cancers and other diseases. Caffeine blocks neurotransmitters that make you feel sleepy and gives you energy that improves your ability to reason and helps you focus, especially on boring or repetitive tasks, researchers say.

But more coffee isn't always better. Too much caffeine can leave you jittery and sleepless — no help at all to a busy online degree student.

August is National Coffee Month. Learn how to be a smarter coffee consumer with these 5 tips.

1. Aim for 200 milligrams of caffeine for a memory boost.

A 2014 study showed that participants who viewed a series of images and then consumed 200 milligrams of caffeine were more likely to correctly identify what they had seen the next day. A dose of 100 milligrams didn't help their memory, and a higher dose was no more effective and had some negative side effects.

How much coffee equals 200 milligrams of caffeine? It's about 2 cups of the coffee you make at home, but less than a Starbucks grande.

2. Postpone your morning cup.

If your morning routine involves shuffling into the kitchen and brewing a batch, you may not be getting the benefits you expect. The reason is the levels of cortisol in your body. Caffeine can interfere with the production of cortisol (which helps you feel awake), and cortisol levels tend to be highest in the morning. Drinking coffee at the same time as cortisol levels are high may tell your body not to produce as much, meaning you'll wind up relying more on the caffeine.

To get the most out of your caffeine intake, drink coffee when cortisol dips — between 10 a.m. and noon and 2 and 5 p.m.

3. Go small.

If you're trying to stay alert all day, a 2-ounce cup of coffee each hour instead of two large mugs may be the way to go, according to a 2004 study. Caffeine peaks in the blood stream within a half hour to an hour of drinking it and can stay elevated for hours afterward.

4. Don't drink it too late.

A good, restful night's sleep is necessary for your memory, concentration and ability to learn. There's evidence that caffeine can interfere with your ability to sleep as long as six hours after your last cup. Everyone is different, but if you are a big coffee drinker and are noticing you have trouble falling asleep or sleeping restfully, you may want to take note of how late in the day you pour your final cup.

5. Take a big sniff.

Caffeine gets all the attention, but coffee's aroma may play a role in waking you up, too. An international study indicated that the smell of coffee could alter genes in the brain and reduce the effects of sleep deprivation.

Coffee alternative

Coffee not for you?

Here's some food for thought: try chocolate!

A piece of dark chocolate (unsweetened, with at least 60 percent cacao) could power you through a slump. A new study suggests this type of chocolate could lower blood pressure and improve your attention span. A regular chocolate bar with high milk and sugar content doesn't have the same benefits, but indulging in a bar with a higher cacao content may do the trick.

How bad is your coffee addiction?

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