Homework, part time jobs, and extracurricular activities are just some of the many responsibilities we college students are expected to juggle on a daily basis. With only twenty-four hours in a day, it often becomes literally impossible to satisfy these numerous demands. But we somehow make it happen. How do we manage to defy the restraints of time? We simply cut back on our daily sleep requirement in order to fulfill these tasks. Insufficient sleep hinders our productivity and our ability to work. So the real question is, how do we keep going when our bodies are pushed to their limit on a daily basis? This is where the miracle of caffeinated beverages come into play.
Popular products such as Red Bull, Rockstar, Monster, and coffee, have become common substitutes for rest among high school and college students. The short term effects of these drinks are undeniable, and incomparable to other methods of waking up our bodies and minds. However, what many of us are unaware of are the long term effects that are both numerous and detrimental to our health.
Within minutes, caffeine has a noticeable effect on the human body, including elevated mood, suppressed appetite, enhanced physical performance, and alertness. What we might not notice, is that if we use it for three to five days in a row, and then suddenly quit, we are going to be thrown into withdrawal. Although the very short term effects make caffeine appear to be a godsend, withdrawal symptoms are inevitable, whether we realize it or not. Such symptoms include headaches, mood swings, trouble concentrating, and the “jitters”. These symptoms, ironically, can directly contrast the effect in which we were aiming to create when we consumed caffeine in the first place. The only way to avoid withdrawal symptoms is to never stop consuming them. This chain reaction forces us to drink more and more caffeine to keep awake and alert, despite the time of day or night. When consumption of caffeine becomes habitual, long term effects on overall health are inevitable.
An increased amount of caffeine has been associated with an increase in blood pressure over time. When consumed in bulk, which includes approximately 400 mg or more, caffeine can lead to restlessness, agitation, insomnia, abnormal heart rhythms, upset stomach and decreased bone calcium levels. It has also been proven to have adverse effects on the gastrointestinal tract, which can lead to esophageal reflux disease as well as stomach ulcers.
Caffeine also generates psychological side effects. Although it’s main appeal is its ability to keep us alert and focused, the long term effects could result in a permanent depletion of attention span. Caffeine can also amplify feelings of anxiety or nervousness in the body. Symptoms of what is known as “caffeinism,” include nervousness, irritability, recurrent headache, twitching, and gastrointestinal disturbance among other symptoms.
We often find ourselves involuntarily taking on more than we can handle, and sleep deprivation is an all too common result of exhausted and overworked students. We are self-medicating ourselves and taking on excessive amounts of a legal, yet equally addictive drug. In moderation, these caffeinated beverages produce minuscule side effects. Many of us have trouble consuming any beverage in moderation. The crash/stimulation period is a dangerous cycle both physically and psychologically. So we find ourselves are caught in an unfortunate situation when we become absolutely swamped in our personal, academic and professional lives, but consequently hurt ourselves instead of helping when lack of sleep becomes a prominent issue. Perhaps it is time to focus on our diet, exercise time management skills rather than self-medication.
It has been proven that people who exercise regularly have higher energy levels. Also, those who have balanced, nutritious diets are proven to be more alert and energized. Some foods that have been proven to provide our bodies with energy include oatmeal, lentils, bananas, sardines, steak, almonds and yogurt. For those of you who are less than thrilled by this list of power foods, many of you will be pleased to hear that chocolate, in moderation, can also raise our energy levels.
The most important part of our diet is water. It is also essential to keep us alert throughout the day. Water is the factor that allows our bodies to generate energy. When we are dehydrated, our bodies become fatigued, tricking us to believe we need substances such as caffeine. However, it is not the godsend it is perceived to be. When it is stripped down to its ugly self, caffeine reveals itself as a deceitful drug, preying on college students to fall into its addictive cycle.
Brynn Dougherty is a sophmore at West Chester University. He can be reached at BD670913@wcupa.edu.