Cut the caffeine and get some sleep

The following editorial was originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sunday, July 2, 2023 as part of the “Raise Your Hand” column in the Insight section.

Monster Energy Drinks

By Jewel Guillermo, McKinley High School, c/o 2025

Many students rely on caffeine to temporarily perk up their energy. In fact, 83.2% of teens reported being regular caffeine drinkers. Although caffeine temporarily increases focus and alertness, caffeine dependency can be detrimental to the mental and physical health of youth.

Students quickly become dependent on caffeine because of the feeling of alertness it produces. Caffeine is effective because of its resemblance to adenosine — a chemical that gradually increases in a person’s brain while they are awake. The more adenosine is produced, the more tired the person will become. Sleeping reduces the amount of adenosine, giving you energy once you wake up. Since the molecular structure of caffeine is similar to adenosine, it can easily fit into the brain’s adenosine receptors. Because of this, the caffeine drinker’s body will temporarily halt its production of adenosine. At the same time, the stimulants dopamine and adrenaline will be released, further increasing his or her alertness.

While having increased alertness and energy can be helpful, caffeine consumers can easily fall into a potentially dangerous cycle of dependence. The effects of caffeine can last for three to five hours, disrupting one’s sleep schedule. As a result, they will need caffeine once again to supplement the lost hours of sleep from the day prior. If not broken, the same cycle will continue and eventually alter the biological clock, which regulates circadian rhythms.

Caffeine reduces the hours of deep sleep and the overall amount of sleep one gets. Lack of sleep is associated with poor dietary intake, increasing the risk of obesity for teenagers addicted to caffeine.

Through proper planning and prioritization, teenagers will discover that it is possible to accomplish their responsibilities without relying on caffeine and sacrificing their sleep and well-being.

— Jewel Guillermo

Sleep deprivation can also lead to mental health problems as your mind will not be strong enough to handle inconveniences and obstacles. Teenagers, in particular, can become susceptible to mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Underscoring this point, studies show that teenagers who sleep less than eight hours a night are three times more likely to contemplate suicide. Regular caffeine use and lack of sleep also affect performance in school. Some students take caffeine for academic purposes, such as increasing focus during class or staying up to finish an assignment. In reality, high energy-drink consumption is correlated with lower GPAs, while other studies have shown that less sleep is correlated with lower grades.

Another factor to consider is the source of caffeine. Energy drinks are the second most commonly consumed dietary supplement among adolescents and young adults.

Compared to energy drinks, coffee contains many more nutrients and health benefits, such as preventing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Moreover, one cup of coffee contains more caffeine but less sugar, preservatives and additives compared to most standard-size energy drinks.

One energy drink contains 54 to 62 grams of sugar, exceeding the recommended daily sugar limit. Nevertheless, although coffee is a better alternative than energy drinks, excessive caffeine from either option can still be harmful.

Many students are not aware of how their body is being affected by their caffeine intake. If adolescents were more aware of the negative side effects of caffeine, they might become more conscientious about their level of intake. Through proper planning and prioritization, teenagers will discover that it is possible to accomplish their responsibilities without relying on caffeine and sacrificing their sleep and well-being.

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