We’re in the sixth week of the quarter and every student can feel it in the air: midterm time. To get through all those stressful hours of studying and test-taking, many students turn to study drugs. And what is the most popular study drug? Caffeine! But I’m not here to say that you shouldn’t drink that cup of coffee or that Red Bull if you have a 10-page paper due the next day. By all means, go right ahead. However, if you find yourself reaching for a cup of java first thing in the morning, every single day, perhaps you should rethink your caffeine intake. In the end, this drug may end up causing more problems than it solves.
First, the good news for all of you regular coffee drinkers: A moderate amount of caffeine is actually good for you. It stimulates your mind, it helps you focus, and might even prevent Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and some types of cancer. But there is a dark side: Too much is bad for you (surprise, surprise; that’s what “too much” means), with common symptoms including splitting headaches, nervousness, irritability, restlessness and possibly heart damage.
Caffeine is also one of the primary causes for sleep problems. If you go to see a doctor due to insomnia, one of the first questions he/she will ask is about your caffeine consumption. It makes sense, as the half-life of caffeine is five hours. That means that if you have coffee at 5 p.m. and you’re trying to go to bed at 10 p.m., you’ll still have half of a cup of that stimulant coursing through your veins by bedtime.
Drinking coffee every single day, multiple times a day, may prove to be rather harmful in the long run. Sure, it seems like a quick-fire way to wake up your brain, but too much caffeine can actually make you more exhausted. First of all, caffeine does not give you energy; it simply makes you “not tired.” Caffeine blocks adenosine, a naturally-occurring chemical in your brain that promotes sleep. However, the human body is constantly in a battle to reach equilibrium. Drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages for an extended period of time and your body will start to fight back, creating more adenosine to make you more tired. And, of course, if you want to maintain that alert feeling that a caffeine high brings, you will have to drink more of it, resulting in dependence — a vicious cycle that can be seen in every drug.
But when it comes to coffee, caffeine isn’t the only thing at play. The least healthy part doesn’t come from the stimulant factor, but rather from all the sugar and cream you dump into your cuppa. All that crap just adds empty calories to your drink, and consuming too many caramel-mocha-Frappuccino-whatevers can lead you on a straight path toward obesity, or even diabetes.
So cut out all that junk and drink your coffee black like a boss. Or better yet, realize that all of the aforementioned benefits that coffee brings can be found in other beverages, such as tea (this writer’s drink of choice). And with coffee being more expensive than oil, ounce-by-ounce, why not go for the cheaper alternative?
But, once again, all this really only applies if you’re drinking caffeine on a daily basis, which about 90% of Americans do. In moderate, infrequent amounts, it won’t cause damage or dependence. It helps you stay awake and focused, and during a midterm season like this, a little extra push may be necessary for a good grade. It’s also a much healthier alternative to study drugs, such as Adderall. But, even though caffeine is a drug that has become socially accepted in our society (and, in many ways, socially encouraged), we still have to remember caffeine is just that — a drug. Use it wisely, and don’t let your morning brew get the best of you.
Jay Grafft is selling all of his BP stock and trading exclusively in coffee.