Caffeine provides a ‘lift’ to drooping students

Laura Schocker

Northwestern students looking for a quick pick-me-up buzz often turn to energy drinks, coffee, tea or soda for their caffeine fix. But some students worry about becoming too heavily dependent on caffeine.

Weinberg freshman Valerie Knodell usually starts her caffeine consumption at 8 a.m. with a cup of tea or coffee during her dining hall breakfast.

“I usually have one (cup) during my meal and then I’ll take one up to my room to drink before class,” she said. “If I don’t eat breakfast in the dining hall, then I’ll grab a Diet Coke, because, without some form of caffeine by 2 p.m., I’ll get a headache.”

Knodell added that she usually will have a Diet Coke again with lunch or dinner, or if she needs a burst of energy while studying.

She said that she often drank Red Bull, an energy drink whose advertising promises it “gives you wings,” in high school but stopped because she didn’t like the taste.

Knodell’s caffeine habit isn’t unique at NU, as students said they use caffeine to stay awake while studying, provide a burst of energy during a long day or even mix caffeine-laden drinks with vodka while partying.

NU’s registered dietician, Rebecca Berman, said the short-term effects of caffeine speed up the body’s systems and make people feel more awake.

“Caffeine is a stimulant, and therefore gives you a short-lived burst of energy,” she said. “But when it leaves the system, there is a rebound effect that will leave you feeling fatigued.”

In small quantities, caffeine actually may enhance memory and concentration, said Berman, who added that some studies indicate caffeine may help with mild cases of depression.

Although Berman said she wouldn’t call caffeine healthy, she said “it’s not bad for you if you’re just using it for the purposes to get through studying, as long as you stay hydrated and eat.”

Weinberg junior Justin Glick follows a pattern similar to Knodell’s.

He said he only uses caffeine — mostly tea — when reading or studying.

“I can’t study without it,” he said.

Although students may be focusing on the short-term benefits of caffeine, Berman cautions against the long-term health risks of heavy, regular consumption.

Drinking more than 300 milligrams of caffeine a day generally will cause dependence and a need to get it into the system, she said.

Berman added that caffeine is a diuretic, meaning that it causes more frequent urination and dehydration, as well as an irritant that can make existing conditions, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, more severe.

Heavy intake, she said, can lead to the development of acid reflux disorder and interfere with sleeping, especially if ingested during the afternoon.

Caffeine-dependent women also should be wary of the link to loss of bone mass, leading to osteoporosis, Berman said.

Music junior Andrew Nogal said he usually drinks five caffeinated beverages a day — two at lunch and three at dinner, usually Coke products, but sometimes coffee with dinner.

“I get headaches without it, especially if I skip it at lunch,” he said.

This type of withdrawal is comMonday, Berman said, and caffeine dependents often will suffer from fatigue, headaches and lethargy.

Nogal picked up the habit about halfway through his freshman year at NU.

He said he relied on caffeine heavily during midterms this quarter, stopping by Norris University Center for coffee late at night and staying awake until 4 a.m.

Berman suggested that students interested in breaking their caffeine habit shouldn’t quit cold turkey.

Instead, she said students should eliminate one drink every several days and then begin to mix caffeinated drinks with decaffeinated drinks.

But caffeine dependent students — like many other kinds of addicts — don’t seem to want to kick the habit any time soon.

“I’m proud of my habit,” Nogal said.

Reach Laura Schocker at [email protected]