Caffeine may detract from effective study
Despite popularity, drinks like coffee and Red Bull often have negative effects if overused
March 30, 2011, 4:19 am · Updated March 30, 2011, 12:00 am·
As students gear up for the final push of exams and papers this semester, many choose energy drinks and coffee to get them through the stress. Despite common knowledge, however, extra caffeine does not necessarily improve studying.
“That’s pretty much a false perception,” said Christina Calamaro, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing who received her doctorate from Penn in 2005.
In the long term, she explained, “you have a harder time concentrating.”
Increased nervousness, anxiety, heart rate and blood pressure are all potential short-term effects from caffeine overuse. Those who drink too much caffeine and do not sleep adequately also tend to gain weight, Calamaro added.
“Pacing yourself [with caffeine] is really important,” she said.
Recent media and medical studies have also been dedicated to studying the effects of caffeine consumption.
According to a study published recently in the journal Pediatrics, over half of America’s 5,448 reported cases of caffeine toxicity in 2007 occurred among people under the age of 19.
The study found the average daily caffeine consumption for U.S. teens is 60 to 70 milligrams, though some consume up to 800 mg per day.
According to Calamaro, two cups of coffee before noon — the equivalent of about 180 mg of caffeine — is the suggested daily intake of caffeine, but students often do not stay within these guidelines.
College senior Siler Bryan, who recently finished an international relations thesis, wrote in an email that he recently became a “heavy coffee user for study purposes.”
“The need to simply not sleep and survive has caused me to switch to Red Bull,” he added. “[It] worked amazingly at first, but seemed to have diminishing returns.”
Bryan said while writing his thesis, he had a can of Red Bull every evening. “I started with the small size and moved up through medium and large as they became less effective.”
After handing in his thesis, Bryan said he planned to go “cold turkey” and return to being a “casual coffee drinker.”
College sophomore Craig Park said he has anywhere from one to four cans of Monster to stay awake during exam study-time.
Park said that the Monsters do not improve studying itself, but “they definitely keep you awake.”
He also said he tries not to drink Monster — or any caffeine — unless he needs to study, because doing so would lessen the effect when he really needs the boost.
Not all students like the rush of caffeine, however.
Studying is more about balance, College senior Natalie Feigenbaum said.
“I’ve only had [coffee] twice,” she said, “and I put a pack of hot chocolate in it. I don’t like the taste.”
Instead of caffeine, she prefers water and Sour Patch watermelon candy as study aids.
“I know people who are in the routine of a cup in the morning and a cup at night,” said Feigenbaum. “Once you start drinking enough, you actually have the shakes and headaches.”
“You’re supposed to sleep. It’s natural,” she added.
According to general manager for Conference Services Pamela Lampitt, students at Penn use less caffeine than is perceived.
Coffee, tea, Red Bull and Full Throttle account for 6 percent of sales at Houston Market, while bottled water and juice account for approximately 66 percent, according to statistics Lampitt provided.
In addition, coffee and tea account for 64 percent of sales at Mark’s Cafe, while Red Bull and Full Throttle only make about 4 percent.
Lampitt used to work for the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where coffee orders were “10-fold.”
Calamaro admits that caffeine in moderation is not necessarily bad.
“Caffeine — in some degree — can help you. I have my two cups in the morning, but then that’s it. It’s when you drink larger amounts that you have problems.”