As a late Easter beckons, many students will be settling into the finals straits before their exams start. There are still only 24 hours in a day and so many will start to turn to caffeine as a way of maximising their performance.
An “Energy Drink” is typically a non-alcoholic drink that contains caffeine, taurine (an amino acid) sugar and B-Vitamins as well as other natural ingredients such as ginseng and guarana.
Energy drinks started as a medicinal tonic in Japan, but was quickly adopted in the west during the rave culture, then taken over by big business. Now energy drinks are promoted to adolescents as a stimulant to increase energy, boost mental alertness and physical performance, by celebrity endorsements and brands sponsoring extreme sports events, as well as a spirit mixer.
It is now a multi-billion pound industry in Europe alone, as companies vie for brand loyalty. The drinks are now pushed to an ever younger market, with little regard or research into the short and long term effects on a child’s health, behaviour or education.
The dangers of these types of drinks were highlighted in the suicide of a 25 year old in 2017 addicted to and drinking 15 energy drinks a day. Experts from the World Health Organisation have been warning of the detrimental effects of these sorts of drinks on both the general, and oral health of the public, but younger people in particular.
These energy drinks do vary but the two main ingredients of caffeine and sugar are present in all.
Anyone who follows my site will be well versed in the effects of sugar. Sugar in nature is food for plants, if you are a vegetable it is great, as an energy source/food for humans it is pretty rubbish.
The average sugar content of an energy drink exceeds the recommended daily limit for sugar of an adult, long term consumption of these drinks can contribute to obesity, various types of cancer and diabetes, none of which is ever mentioned in the glossy ads.
Short term, the sudden sugar rush these energy drinks provide, give you a burst of energy and glucose – an energy source for the brain. However as high blood sugar levels damage your blood vessels the body responds with an insulin spike, the sugar is converted into fat and you get a sugar low leaving you tired, listless, feeling hungry and you may become irritable.
The amount of caffeine in these drinks can be astounding and it is the prolonged effects of the caffeine that is so damaging in these drinks.
Caffeine is a stimulant, the amount contained in a typical 16fl oz. Can of energy drink varies from 50mg to 500mg. To put this in context the average can of cola contains 32mg of caffeine a cup of coffee contains 95mg of caffeine. ENERGY DRINKS CAN CONTAIN 4.5 TIMES as much caffeine as cola.
Caffeine is a highly addictive stimulant. Taken to excess it can lead to a wide range of cardiovascular problems including heart palpitations and increased blood pressure.
Caffeine in excess can also have devastating effects on mental health – increasing an individual’s risk of experiencing stress, anxiety, depression and sleep disorders. Definitely not recommended for the exam period.
Caffeine is also a diuretic so you will pee more, making you thirsty and leading to dehydration especially if you go for more energy drinks. Even mild to moderate dehydration leads to tiredness, headaches and impairment in your brain function and memory.
Caffeine and Sleep
Adenosine is a chemical that builds up while we are awake. As levels of this chemical build up throughout the day it reaches a level where it begins to shut down the wake-promoting areas of the body and increase the sleep-inducing levels. 12-16 hours of being awake and these levels peak leading to sleep. Caffeine works by blocking the adenosine receptor sites and so keeping you awake.
However there are two important facts, as you take coffee and remain awake, your adenosine levels continue to build, at some stage you will crash. Secondly, the half-life of coffee is 5-7 hours that means a cup of coffee taken at 7.30 means only half the caffeine will have been cleared by 1.30am. That coffee at dinner will lead to a poor nights sleep!
This is the single most important part of a good study regime, without enough sleep you cannot learn. Sleep deprivation is so dangerous that it is banned from the Guinness Book of Records. Sleep deprivation is the one method of torture that even the toughest soldier cannot withstand.
Think of being awake as reception, you can take in information and data, Non REM sleep, stores and strengthens the information and new facts you have taken in that day. Deep REM sleep then integrates and interconnects these facts increasing our problem-solving ability and insights from the facts we have learnt.
Study after study has proved that fact retention and insight increases following good sleep, and sleep refreshes the brain, clearing it ready for more learning. Repeated studies testing two groups one of which was allowed a quick nap before memory testing, has shown conclusively the “nap group” out-performs the other on memory and problem solving
The old saying of “sleep on it” is so true
So as you move into the final stint of studying for exams, what should you do?
Stay hydrated, water is the key to good concentration, ensure you are drinking enough throughout the day.
Take regular breaks, however, don’t sit in front of a screen or T.V, – go for a walk or some form of gentle exercises. As you relax in this way, distracting your conscious mind it allows the unconscious mind to start processing the information you have learnt.
Eat well, stay away from sugary snacks.
Get good quality sleep, at least 7-8 hours a night and to do this you need to cut caffeine, from tea, coffee and energy drinks after midday to allow your body to effectively clear all caffeine by the time you are going to bed.