Caffeine – How Much is Too Much?
By Sara Laiti
As college students, caffeine is essential. Whether we’re up all night cramming for a midterm, spending our last few hours finishing a 7-page research paper, or trying to make it through a full day of classes, coffee is almost always in the picture. However, when it comes down to caffeine intake, where do we draw the line?
Many seem to forget that caffeine is a drug, and like all drugs, the possibility of dependency exists. Although it may help you cram a week’s worth of studying into one night or keep you awake during your earliest classes, it comes with a host of negative side effects that have short and long-term repercussions.
Medical News Today has released studies that show the benefits of caffeine intake, such as protection against stroke, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Even still, there are a plethora of negatives that one must consider when deciding to make caffeine a regular part of their diet. The report showed that caffeine was proven to cause side effects such as muscle tremors, a fast heartbeat, nervousness, an upset stomach, irritability, restlessness, and insomnia. Caffeine may also amplify symptoms in those with anxiety disorders.
So, with all of the available information regarding caffeinated beverages, why do so many college students endure the negative symptoms of caffeine to do well in school? I asked a college freshman, Emily Laiti, about her caffeine intake, and she estimated that she consumes around 24-48 ounces of caffeine a day. That’s two Starbucks Venti drinks, or around 415 mg of coffee compared to the recommended maximum of 330 mg.
“I noticed my caffeine dependency began when I started my college classes,”, explained Laiti. “I was really tired for my 8 a.m. classes because I had to stay up so late the nights before doing homework. I knew then that I had to start drinking coffee to get through the day because classes and schoolwork last all day.”
When asked about the side effects she experiences after consuming her daily dose of coffee, she confirmed that the effects were consistent with overconsumption of caffeine. “I normally get an upset stomach and become jittery,” she explained. “Sometimes, if I drink it later in the day, my heart races and I won’t be able to sleep at night, making it especially difficult to wake up in the morning for my early classes.” Laiti also confessed that when she doesn’t consume any caffeine on any given day, she becomes extremely fatigued and irritable.
She isn’t alone; many students around the country become caffeine-dependent during their collegiate career, myself included. Considering Emily Laiti and I are siblings, it came as no surprise that we both share similar caffeine cravings. Keeping research and studies from Medical News Today in mind, I suggested that we both endure two full days without coffee to see what healthier alternatives we could adopt in an effort to stay awake.
I decided to move my workouts to early morning; numerous studies have shown that morning workouts increase energy levels throughout the day. I noticed that I felt a little tired around lunch time, but went back to feeling energized and awake shortly after, without even taking a nap. I also made a point to increase my daily water intake and eat smaller meals and frequent snacks instead of 2-3 large meals that often leave me lethargic.
I applied the same techniques the next day, and it worked. I got up early to exercise, drank plenty of water, and had multiple healthy snacks throughout the day. Beginning my day with physical activity and fueling my metabolism during and between classes kept me more productive and didn’t cause the usual crash that caffeine brings.
Emily Laiti practiced similar techniques. She replaced her afternoon coffee at lunch with a water and carried bottled water with her throughout the day. She also tried eating more balanced meals.
“I read that eating too much greasy, carb-loaded foods can make you tired, so I figured I should take a shot at giving it up for a couple days to test its truth,” she said.
Laiti’s results were very similar. For the first time since arriving at college, she was able to make it through an entire caffeine-less day without taking a nap. Combine that with no caffeine-induced jitters and stomach aches, and she’d found herself a system that could substitute caffeine on some days.
Although it may seem extremely difficult to give up coffee with a busy schedule and tedious workload, it is possible. Excessive caffeination does have the potential to be dangerous, so it’s crucial to monitor intake and practice healthy substitutes such as drinking plenty of water and making healthier dietary choices. Many students would never imagine replacing caffeine with water, salads, and morning workouts, however, the short and long-term benefits are worth making the change. Our health–and lives!–depend on it.