How do you prefer to start your morning? For most of us, we can’t imagine beginning the day without a cup of coffee or tea. For most students, caffeine intake is a necessity and the popular belief that it keeps one awake for a longer period of time, have made it a go-to for young people. College students use coffee, soda, or energy drinks to caffeinate themselves through an exam, assignment, or just to wake up for a long day of lectures. Sure, these beverages may be effective at helping you wake up in the morning, but can all of that caffeine be doing more harm than good?
Coffee has become such a staple of everyday life that you can barely go a block before finding a coffee shop. Over half of the buildings in most university campuses have at least one location which sells coffee. Every other week, you’ll see an article either praising caffeine for its health benefits or criticizing its side effects and there are lots of misconceptions and myths regarding caffeine intake among college students that are either encouraging its intake or discouraging. So, should you be quitting coffee “cold turkey” or investing in a machine of your own? Are there some elements of truth to these myths about caffeine? This article explains these misconceptions and will help you make a wise decision the next time you decide to indulge in that tempting cup of coffee, soda or energy drink.
Myths and misconceptions of caffeine consumption
1. Caffeine is bad for you
Because of some people’s dependency on caffeine, it’s easy to chalk it up as “bad.” However, caffeine has many benefits, too, including:
- Improving memory
- Increasing energy levels and alertness
- Providing essential nutrients and antioxidants
- Helping to detox the liver
- Relieving post-workout muscle pain
- Warding off diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
- Protecting against cataracts
- Reducing kidney stone risk
- Boosting metabolism and preventing weight gain
- Lowering risk of type II diabetes
- Reducing inflammation
With all of these potential health benefits, there’s no reason to swear off caffeine for good. The key here is moderation. A cup or two of coffee each day is harmless; five or more cups may be overkill.
2. Caffeine allows me to sleep less
This might be true to an extent but unfortunately it has become one of the major reasons why students indulge in excessive caffeine intake. Sleep deprivation is a reality for many students and results in reduced cognitive function and higher stress levels. Students rely on caffeine to keep them awake while studying for an exam or test, and this prolongs their sleep deficit. We often feel encouraged by our peers when we share the “we pulled an all-nighter” tactic.
The truth is, in consuming caffeine, we akin our bodies to batteries that can run longer with less time to charge, which definitely doesn’t end well as your body will perform at less than optimum. It’s good to know that caffeine is not a substitute for the vital functions that sleep provides. Sleep is important for learning since information in short-term memory is moved to long-term memory during sleep. A lack of sleep also reduces metabolism and energy levels. The best path to tread will be studying ahead of that exam or test and giving your body the sleep and rest it needs. This will make you not to resort to taking large amounts of caffeine which might affect you adversely.
3. Caffeine will help with weight loss.
It is true that caffeine does help to burn an additional 70-100 calories per cup, thanks to the metabolism boost that it provides, but studies show that people who increase their caffeine intake are gaining more weight than other people who don’t. And the thing is that, although it can assist a little, you need to make changes in your diet and life so any weight changes will occur.
4. My body will become addicted to caffeine
This is one of most believed myths. For caffeine, consumption in moderation is enough. Caffeine is oftentimes not an addiction at all but rather a dependency. Over an extended period of time, your body becomes dependent on caffeine to help it function. Caffeine acts as a stimulant by sending dopamine signals to your brain making you feel happy, motivated and more alert. Over time, our bodies get accustomed to this feeling, and in turn form a dependency on the substance. For regular caffeine drinkers, going without it may make you feel sluggish or even cause withdrawal symptoms. “Some of these withdrawal symptoms include headaches, trouble concentrating, fatigue, irritability, depression, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, and stiffness,” explains Megan Boyce a Nurse practitioner at Penn medicine. However, the surge in dopamine that caffeine causes is very small compared to the imbalance that other stimulants such as drugs can cause, which is why caffeine is considered a dependency rather than an addiction. Megan further explained that by “gradually reducing caffeine over time with substitution of decaf or non-caffeinated beverages, you can reduce the withdrawal symptoms related to caffeine.”
5. Caffeine is only in drinks like coffee, tea, and soda
One of the ways that people get into the most trouble with caffeine is by believing it can only be found in beverages. While these items are most likely to have the highest amounts of caffeine, you should also note that caffeine can be found in many foods, too. “Hidden sources of caffeine may include milk chocolate, ice cream, protein bars, and candy bars,” Megan explained. The best way to avoid consuming too much caffeine is to always be sure to read the labels on food and drinks to help you keep track of exactly how much caffeine you’re consuming.
6. Caffeine’s has no real side effect
This statement is false as caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, just like Adderall and amphetamines. While caffeine use does not pose the same negative health consequences of some stimulants, caffeine withdrawal, dependence and toxicity do exist. For example, students drinking coffee during exam weeks can experience withdrawal symptoms such as headache, fatigue, and irritability afterwards when it is not necessary to consume as much caffeine.
7. Caffeine causes insomnia overtime
Caffeine does not cause insomnia, as popularly believed. Insomnia is a sleep disorder where people have problems falling and/or staying asleep. The fact is that caffeine can affect the human body for more than five hours. That way, it delays sleep, not preventing it. Caffeine is disposed from our system after a day or two. After that period, an individual shouldn’t have any problems with his sleep. The best solution is not to drink caffeinated drinks about six hours before going to sleep.
8. Caffeine can’t be fatal
Although it is highly uncommon, caffeine overdose is a real issue that can be fatal. The lethal amount of caffeine is roughly 10 grams which would be the equivalent to 30 cups of coffee. Sure, you’re probably not going to be drinking that much ‘joe’ in one day, but what about other sources of caffeine? With energy drinks and double shot espressos, not to mention caffeine pills, it’s easier than ever before to consume large quantities of caffeine in a short period of time. Additionally, nutrition labels can often be confusing for people to digest, especially teens and young adults. It’s easy to read that an energy drink has 80 mg of caffeine, but fail to realize that the whole can contains 3 or 4 servings!
How much caffeine do I really need?
A popular paradigm for many students is: “Overwork is good work.” With caffeine, juggling academic responsibilities and social relationships becomes easier. We often rely on caffeine in place of healthy habits such as maintaining a regular sleep schedule. Students also assume that the amount of caffeine they consume is inconsequential as long as they can complete their work. The reality, however, is that we consume more caffeine than we need to obtain the cognitive boost we need which is achievable with lower doses. As a result, we become more susceptible to experiencing symptoms of caffeine dependence and withdrawal which can be unpleasant. Unfortunately, there is not a clear and reliable recommendation for how much caffeine is “reasonable” or “good.” It is also difficult to figure out how much caffeine is in your favorite beverages since companies are not required to label their products with caffeine content.
How can I manage my caffeine intake?
Without knowing exactly how much caffeine is in our drinks, how can we determine if we are drinking more caffeine than we need? Here are a few questions you can ask to evaluate your caffeine use.
Am I getting enough sleep?
Caffeine is not a substitute for a good night’s sleep. In fact, due to caffeine’s stimulative nature, it can interfere with your ability to sleep, your quality of sleep and worsen your sleep deprivation the following day. If you find yourself reaching for caffeine late into the night regularly, and feeling sleep deprived often, you might consider finding alternative ways to stay energized throughout the day. Some examples include going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, changing your study or work habits and schedule if your caffeine consumption interferes with your sleep, or establishing a regular exercise routine. Occasional bouts of sleepiness are normal so in these cases you can also try getting up to go for a short walk or snacking on something nutritious.
How many caffeinated drinks am I consuming?
Try to be cognizant of how many caffeinated drinks you’re consuming each day. Have you been increasing the amount little by little? We become more tolerant to caffeine, so it is common to increase our intake in an effort to seek out the way it originally made us feel. On average, the life of caffeine is 3 to 6 hours (this varies) so it can be helpful to consider this before consuming more caffeine.
Caffeine can give students the boost they need to stay awake in class and finish their work. However, it is easy to become too dependent on caffeinated drinks in lieu of practicing healthy habits such as sleeping and time management. Considering all facts and truths about caffeine, students and young people should continue enjoying it without worrying about the harm to health. The best approach is in consuming it within the normal limits – up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day, which is more than enough for everyone to enjoy a cup of favorite coffee, energy drink, soda or chocolate bar!