It happens to the best of us: three mid-term exams and two term papers all due in the same week leads to cramming, and pulling all-nighters most likely involves plenty of coffee and Red Bull. All-night study sessions are pretty common during college, and caffeine is one of the easiest ways for students to stay awake. The stereotype is that college students drink a lot of alcohol, but Im willing to bet that they consume just as much caffeine.
In fact, as I write this Im sitting at my desk with a Diet Pepsi next to my monitor and an empty coffee mug that I left sitting on a coaster this afternoon. One of the first things I do in the morning after I put in my contacts is make a pot of coffee or open a can of soda. I definitely consume more caffeine than I should, but I still havent given up the habit.
These days, Starbucks is a pretty common sight on college campuses across the country, so you would think that caffeine is relatively safe, right? Well, yes and no.
Caffeine is a substance that occurs naturally in the leaves and seeds of many plants, but its also produced artificially and added to certain foods and beverages. Caffeine is classified as a psychoactive stimulant drug, which means that it affects the brain and nervous system. That is why it can help you stay awake even when youre tired. It can keep you alert and awake, but high doses of caffeine can also cause dizziness or headaches.
Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, chocolate, soda, energy drinks, and even some over-the-counter medications. Medical professionals usually agree that consuming up to 300 mg of caffeine per day is safe. An 8 ounce cup of coffee contains between 60 and 120 mg of caffeine, and a 12 ounce can of Coke or Pepsi contains around 30 to 40 mg. Those numbers imply that two cups of coffee and one or two sodas per day should be safe, but many people consume much more caffeine than that.
Caffeine is one of the most commonly used drugs in the world. Studies show that nearly 90% of American adults ingest some form of caffeine every day. Most people I know definitely fall into that majority. I even found a Time magazine article online that claims research shows that people who ingest as little as 100 mg of caffeine daily can develop a physical dependence that results in withdrawal symptoms, such as headache, fatigue and irritability.
If youre constantly cramming for tests and staying up until 4 AM, the amount of caffeine you need to stay awake is going to increase. As with any other drug, your body can become tolerant of caffeine, which means that you will need to increase your dose to feel the same effects. Caffeine tolerance can happen rather quickly, especially if you consume it on a regular basis.
Should you get to the point that you cannot function without caffeine in your system and the long lines at Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts lead me to believe that a lot of people get to that point you will start to experience withdrawal symptoms until you ingest more caffeine.
Most people consume far more caffeine than they realize (or than they care to admit) but they should realize that excessive amounts of caffeine, in conjunction with sleep deprivation, can cause a lot more problems than a less-than-perfect grade on a test.
Caffeine abuse can cause dehydration, heartburn, diarrhea, irritability and anxiety, and even more serious issues such as cardiovascular problems and bone loss. Most people are aware of these facts, yet most people wont give up their coffee.
Caffeine is the most common drug used on college campuses, and all-nighters are bound to happen but if you can limit your caffeine intake even somewhat, your body will thank you. Should you decide to give up the caffeine, or at least lower your daily caffeine consumption, your best bet may be to wean yourself off slowly. If you normally consume five cups of coffee per day, try to limit yourself to four, then three you get the drift. Good luck!
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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