Is Caffeine Bad for Singers?

Singing, Caffeine, and Dehydration

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Image courtesy of bddemir via flickr cc license

Caffeine may be detrimental to the singing voice. Surprised? I wasn’t. I learned coffee has negative effects on the body, so of course it is bad for singing. But, there’s more to the story.

Positives of Caffeine: Caffeine is more than a pick-me-up to drown out sleepiness and a comfort to coffee drinkers and chocolate fans. It is a painkiller for simple headaches and, along with other chemicals, treats migraines.

Many find it improves concentration, reaction times, and reasoning skills. People use caffeine to treat attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), asthma, gallbladder disease, shortness of breath in newborns, and low blood pressure. It gives a jump start to the nervous system and heart, and when you drink coffee, for instance, the effects are felt in minutes and stays in your body 3-5 hours.

Negatives of Caffeine: First of all, it is addicting. Missing even one coffee a day can result in withdrawal symptoms of headaches, drowsiness, and loss of concentration. Since caffeine will solve those problems, it can become habitual to turn to caffeine to solve symptoms rather than deal with the underlying problem. Caffeine can also cause feelings of panic or anxiety depending on the person and amount. Especially alarming for singers, it can cause dehydration and changes in voice quality.

Dehydration and the Voice: The body is a singer’s instrument and needs water.

Without water, kidneys do not function, blood supply to the brain is reduced (in extreme dehydration it can even lead to a coma), and you may feel lightheaded, nauseous, and weak in severe cases. With just moderate dehydration, you may have a headache or feel tired. It also can stop the production of mucus, which reduces the flexibility and responsiveness of the vocal cords.

Hydration: To rehydrate, liquid needs to go through our entire system. It may feel like liquid touches the vocal cords directly when swallowing, and it does have a lubricating effect, but it is not lasting. Drinking eight glasses of water a day may or may not be the right amount for you. If you consume caffeine, it may also alter your ability to hydrate your body. Simply drink enough that your urine is neither dark nor odorous. You should also urinate at least four times a day.

Caffeine and Dehydration: There is a correlation between dehydration and caffeine consumed in large amounts equivalent to 3-4 Red Bulls or 2-3 cups of coffee (250-300 mg). The effect is a need to urinate and the result is dehydration. Studies show, however, that regular caffeine consumers form a tolerance to caffeine.

Results of studies on Caffeine and the Voice:  One pilot study took eight volunteers and tested their voice quality before and after they consumed 250mg caffeine tablets and found voice quality was reduced. The degree of the effect varied between participants. Another study with 58 females ranging between 18-35, with half given a 100 mg caffeine tablet and another half given a placebo, found no variables between groups in terms of vocal acoustics and aerodynamics a half hour after ingesting the pill.

A group of 16 healthy adults participated in two sessions where they consumed 480 mg or 24mg of caffeine. They found no significant difference in the voice’s ability to deal with prolonged speech between the two sessions.

Conclusion: Studies show that for regular consumers, caffeine neither dehydrates the body nor has a negative effect on singing. However, if you are a vocal student with juries and exams crammed near the same time, turning to caffeine pills to help prolong study hours for just a short period of time is probably a mistake.