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Could caffeine be making life harder for students?

For the sake of full disclosure I feel as though it’s necessary to admit that as I am writing this sentence I have consumed almost 384 milliliters of caffeine in the last four hours; in the last eight hours that number goes up to about 534, and relative to the average college student, I am no outlier. A study just last year of over 1,200 students across the country found that 92 percent of students consumed caffeine in any form with coffee as the main source. Many University of Maine students have seen the Monsters or the 5-Hour Energies in the vending machines in the dorms, and there’s a reason every snack bar, dining hall or cafe on campus provides coffee 24-hours a day. It’s a fact of life as a student. And like many things in the lives of students, we tend to push it to an unhealthy degree.

Look no further than the unholy marriage of caffeine and binge-drinking and you will find a coupling so obvious that it’s hard to believe it took until 2005 for a company to effectively turn it for a profit. I’m referencing none other than Four Loko, a drink that put itself on the map in 2010 when it took college parties by storm and promptly got itself banned by the FDA the same year. The issue with a concoction like Four Loko is that it mixes an upper (caffeine) with a downer (alcohol), allowing individuals to drink more and feel it less, an extremely dangerous effect that led to numerous accidents and deaths. The death of the original Four Loko didn’t stop young adults from continuing to mix plastic-bottle vodka and sugar-free monsters; the only thing that can do that is a sense of decency.  

On a far more day-to-day level, caffeine, as far as drugs go, is pretty harmless; it’s the application that can be problematic. There is no other example of this more pertinent to the life of a college student than the effect of caffeine upon the quality of sleep. Most people are already aware of the negative effects that can result from not getting the right quality or quantity of sleep such as impaired mood, increased risk of accidents and most importantly, lower grade point averages. Excessive or inappropriate use of caffeine can affect sleep and thus result in these same effects. Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist with a specialty in sleep disorders, suggests drinking coffee no later than 2 p.m., explaining that even if you don’t feel an afternoon cup of coffee, it can still be affecting your sleep as much as six hours after the fact. Breus also advocates for avoiding “super-sized” drinks, the calories aside, 20-ounces is way more stimulant than the body knows what to do with (the Rushes at Aroma Joe’s being a prime example).

This is not at all to knock coffee or those that enjoy it. It’s great for attentiveness and memory, and according to some studies, a cup or two a day reduces the risk for stroke. However, like anything, it should be taken in moderation. Drinking coffee too soon before sleeping only results in a cycle of exhaustion followed by caffeination followed by further exhaustion. Leave coffee for the morning, drink tea in the afternoon. And don’t drink Four Loko; it’s still out there, and it’s still garbage.


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