Is Caffeine Affecting Your Study Habits?
Updated By Staff Writer on September 24, 2020
It’s no secret: Americans love caffeine. Nearly 90 percent of Americans consume caffeine each day1 with coffee as the favored front-runner. In fact, more than 50 percent of our population drinks an average of 3.1 cups of coffee per day, which comes as no surprise after learning that the coffee shop market the global coffee market is expected to grow to $134.25 billion by 2024.2
Though the monumental growth of the coffee industry has undoubtedly impacted our country’s economic growth, it’s important to understand the health implications behind this caffeine craze. Furthermore, as a current or prospective college student, knowing the pros and cons behind guzzling this proverbial “life blood” can help you make the most of caffeine.
In this article, you’ll learn how caffeine affects your body and how it can both benefit and hinder your ability to study in college.
How Does Caffeine Work?
Caffeine is the most widely used drug in the world. And, like other drugs, caffeine has a profound effect on brain chemistry that makes it effective and pleasurable. To understand how caffeine works, it’s helpful to break the science down into its effects on two main receptors in the brain: adenosine and dopamine.
Adenosine is a chemical compound that’s one of four integral bases of the nucleic acids that make life possible. Because this chemical is created in the brain, it’s designed to bind to adenosine receptors and slow down nerve cell activity to ultimately cause drowsiness.
Caffeine looks like adenosine to a nerve cell, except that when it binds to the adenosine receptor, it doesn’t slow the cell’s activity. Instead, caffeine enables the cell to identify adenosine and causes the nerve cells to increase activity. It also causes the blood vessels to constrict, which boosts the firing of neurons and triggers a sense of activity and emergency in the brain’s pituitary gland.
The brain then releases hormones that prompt the production of adrenaline which has an array of side effects like increased heartbeat and blood pressure, dilated pupils and airways, and a boost of sugar released into the bloodstream for added energy.
Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that prompts feelings of pleasure in the brain, can be easily mimicked by drugs like heroin, cocaine, and, unsurprisingly, caffeine. Though caffeine’s effect on dopamine levels is much weaker than heroin, the concept is the same—it’s that feel-good hit that makes caffeine so effective!
How Does Caffeine Affect College Students?
Caffeine can help college students in a number of ways, both physical and mental. Some of the effects of caffeine on college students include:
Improves athleticism: Student athletes will be glad to hear that caffeine has been known to boost endurance3 and help people exercise for longer periods of time at an increased intensity. This occurs because caffeine aids muscles in burning fat and turning it into energy.
Increases focus: There are many things vying for a college student’s attention, and most students are looking for all the help they can get when it comes to focusing on their schoolwork. Luckily, caffeine can help in this area, too. Caffeine itself may not make students smarter, but it does increase the brain’s ability to concentrate.4
Boosts alertness: Many students find themselves dragging after a late night of studying, socializing with friends, or a long day at the office. Moderate doses of caffeine can solve this problem by acting as an all-natural stimulant. Students who take caffeine before reading or taking notes in class will usually have an easier time staying alert and attentive.
It’s important to note that the more college students consume caffeine, the less effective it will be. Though caffeine is not addictive5, the body does get used to the signals it sends out to the brain and other parts of the body, lowering its positive effects. In order to reap the most benefits from caffeine, experts recommend consuming no more than 400 mg per day.6
What Are the Drawbacks of Excessive Caffeine Consumption?
There are several health risks associated with excessive caffeine intake. While caffeine does temporarily boost blood pressure, the risk comes when this boost occurs over and over again, as researchers have discovered that this could increase your risk of heart disease.
Furthermore, regular consumption of soft drinks could lower bone density in women and can raise the amount of acid in your stomach, causing heartburn and an upset stomach. Because caffeine is also a diuretic, it can cause dehydration and could interfere with the absorption and metabolism of calcium.
Experts say7 that consuming too much caffeine per day can lead to other problems such as:
- Trouble sleeping
- Digestive issues
- Heart palpitations
- Muscle twitches
Does Caffeine Affect Memory?
Along with decreasing the risk of stroke and the risk of Type 2 diabetes, caffeine is known to enhance memory. According to the study by Johns Hopkins University, caffeine can have a positive effect on long-term memory and enhance your ability to retain certain memories for at least 24 hours post-consumption.
One study of older adults8 found that caffeine helps with the memory decline that is common in the later afternoon. Though not all college students tend to have the same type of memory decline associated with the time of day, many students do struggle with taking early morning tests. And another study9 shows that caffeine can help there, too.
Study participants who consumed caffeine in the morning had a significant improvement in their explicit memory, showing that caffeine can help anyone recall information better during the time of day when they aren’t usually at their best performance.
What Are the Healthiest Ways to Consume Caffeine?
Scientists, doctors, and experts across the board recommend that, though caffeine may have several benefits, it should be consumed in moderation. In fact, research shows that drinking or taking more than 300 milligrams of caffeine at a time is too much, and can interfere with your sleep and feelings of stress and anxiety.
One particular study found that 200 milligrams of caffeine is the ideal amount if you wish to enhance cognitive functioning and improve your mood.
Before reaching for the energy drinks to get a caffeine fix, students should opt for healthier options to get all the benefits without the negatives that may come with sodas and other treats that contain caffeine. Here are some of the healthiest ways to consume caffeine:
- Coffee: This ancient stand-by is popular for a reason. As a natural brew, coffee is generally a good choice when it comes to consuming caffeine—but many students load their cup with cream and sugar, making the drink less healthy. Students should opt for organic black coffee to get the most health benefits from their daily cup of Joe.
- Green tea: Green tea is a great option because it usually has a lower caffeine content than coffee and also carries the benefit of boosting immunity10, helping with weight loss, and providing antioxidants to help the body fight disease and aging.
- Unsweetened ice tea: Sweet tea is loaded with processed sugar, so health-conscious students should instead reach for the unsweetened version and add a little honey if they need more of a sweet fix.
Is Caffeine Good While Studying?
So is caffeine good or bad for studying? There are several benefits of caffeine that can help students succeed in college, especially when it comes to completing course material and studying. Caffeine can help students focus, be more alert in the classroom or library, and have the energy they need to tackle their to-do list. Caffeine can even help student athletes or those who are passionate about their intramural sports teams.
Drinking coffee isn’t just helpful for the traditional college years, either. In fact, one study found that individuals who drink three to five cups of coffee every day have a 15 percent chance of living longer than those who don’t drink coffee. So students can feel good about reaching for their daily roast even after graduation day.
Start Your College Journey Today
Whether you’re a parent, working professional, or someone interested in starting a new career, you can now have confidence going back to college, knowing caffeine isn’t your enemy, it’s your friend--as long as you drink it in moderation.