A Study in Caffeine: How Not to Prep for Finals Week

By Kersten Jaeger on November 12, 2012

For most people this time of year includes warm sweaters, cold weather, and family holiday traditions, but for those of us on the quarter system at school, it means something not quite so enjoyable: finals.

It’s crunch time at the University of Denver as teachers pile on papers and projects and review sessions to make sure we absorb as much as possible before our winter break. With an increased workload there is inevitably an increased consumption of caffeinated beverages. Proven to increase focus, productivity, and energy, drinks containing high amounts of caffeine need to be used cautiously.

Photo from Flickr.com. Uploaded by Jemimus

Caffeine itself occurs naturally in varous plants and beans and is found not only in drinks, but in various food products such as chocolate, yes ladies, I did say chocolate. For people who suffer from migraines, caffeine can boost the affects of pain killers by increasing blood flow in the brain, and studies have proven that consistent caffeine intake could potentially reduce the risk of diabetes, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. These positive results are generally only proven to be a result of nearly four times the daily recommended amount of caffeine intake, and there are still many negative effects.

High doses of caffeine can cause anxiety, dizziness, headaches, and the jitters. Caffeine also has a very long half-life of six hours, meaning it takes a very long time to leave your system completely. Due to this, people often try to sleep with a large amount of caffeine still circulating their blood which causes their brain to not relax as it should and prevents true REM sleep. The next morning the sleep-deprived individual will feel fatigued and go for another caffeinated drink.

One common occurrence with caffeine is the withdrawal effects when one tries to cut back their intake. Withdrawals can last a few days and include headaches, fatigue, irritability and even slight depression. Also, people who frequently consume caffeine gather an increased tolerance for the drug and will need more and more to produce the same effect.

Scientifically speaking, caffeine causes the brain to believe it is under attack which stimulates energy and focus. Caffeine attaches to receptors in the brain that usually induce sleep, and it basically freaks them out because its not the substance they usually receive, namely adenosine. This freak out causes the brain to believe there’s something attacking and it produces adrenaline. This raises blood pressure, stimulates the heart, produces rapid shallow breathing, and deprives the brain of oxygen needed to keep the person calm and rational. This is why tired people who have consumed too much caffeine tend to be irritable and over-emotional

The FDA recommends about 200mg-300mg per day which is about three 8oz cups of coffee. Unfortunately the sizes of coffee drinks at coffee shops, such as Starbucks, tend to be much larger and contain a greater dosage of caffeine. This leads to unintentional caffeine “overdoses”.

Photo from Flickr.com by ~Twon~

Even worse than coffee are the incredibly abundant 5-Hour Energy shots. These suspicious tiny bottles of supposed increased energy for five hours have potentially dangerous effects. Each bottle contains 2000% of the daily recommended intake of B6 vitamins, and therefore only two bottles are recommended per day. Many people ignore that warning, however, and take multiple which has lead to serious side effects. One toxicologist, Chris Rosenbaum, has said that people have suffered from seizures, restlessness, and uncontrollable vomiting.

Be careful of drinking coffee past 4PM so as to ensure a good night’s sleep. Often, sluggishness can result from dehydration or long periods of inactivity so drinking more water and taking a long walk can help as much, or more than, drinking some coffee. Be very wary of 5-Hour Energy drinks, and other energy drinks for that matter – they can get around FDA restrictions by calling themselves a “dietary supplement”. Coffee also does not sober you up – caffeine combined with alcohol actually causes more accidents among college kids.

Basically, when cramming for finals, you just need to be aware of these studies. I am not advocating the eradication of coffe, by any means – in fact, I’m drinking my second cup of coffee while writing this. Rather, I’m calling for moderation – just be careful to take care of yourself, because you’ll always be more productive if you’re feeling healthier.

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