Its crunch time in the semester and the onslaught of midterms and essays leaves more on students’ plates than can be devoured during daytime hours. As time ticks on, deadlines creep closer and closer. It feels like there’s no time for sleep, and to cure heavy eyelids and prolonged blinks, students seek a fix that will give them enough of a boost to last the rest of the night.
This much-needed energy is found at the bottom of the biggest coffee or energy drink they can get their hands on.
But the harmful potential of these beverages is often overlooked. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is investigating reports of five deaths linked to the popular Monster energy drinks. Among those cases is that a 14-year-old girl in California, who died from drinking two 24-ounce cans of Monster Energy in consecutive days.
Caffeine is the most commonly consumed drug in Canada, with approximately 80 per cent of Canadians knowingly including it in their daily routine – whether it be a large double double to jump-start the morning or a small bottle of 5-hour energy for a boost to study through the night.
In fact, Canadians’ coffee consumption is on the rise. In 1996, the average Canadian drank 96 litres of coffee; however, coffee became more popular in 2009, with the average person consuming 106 litres, according to Statistics Canada.
Karley Wu, a third-year Graphic Communications Management student, cut coffee out of her daily routine to save money and curb her dependence on caffeine, but has since returned to it.
“On a normal day I’ll have two espresso shots. When I feel like I really need the caffeine I have three or four,” she says, “I have ventis, so that’s like 20 ounces of caffeine.”
A heavy workload is what brought Wu back to her favourite brewed beverage.
“It was death weekend, as we like to call it in GCM. We had like 4 assignments due on one day. I’d spent the entire weekend without sleep, so I really needed it,” she says, “When I went back to it, I was bouncing off the walls. I was so wired.”
In a typical large coffee of 500 millilitres, there are 200-400 milligrams of caffeine. No healthy, active person should consume more than 450 milligrams a day, according to Health Canada.
If 600 milligrams are consumed as part of a person’s daily dosage, they may experience an irregular heartbeat, nausea, and tense muscles. These effects will become more serious as the dosage increases, including convulsions, light flashes, and breathing difficulties as the dosage reaches 750 milligrams.
Sabrina Schumaker, a third-year kinesiology and health science major at York University, says many students are misinformed when it comes to caffeine consumption.
“Coffee and energy drinks are detrimental, not helpful, to sleep-deprived students,” Schumaker says, “They think it will help them while actually, the biochemical affects can cause panic and limit problem-solving abilities.”
As an alternative, she suggests something that contains natural sugar to provide energy without the crash or dependence associated with caffeine. Healthy food, specifically an apple, is a much safer and healthier way for the body to get its energy.
Schumaker has been hesitant to consume high levels of caffeine since she conducted a test on small crustaceans called daphnias in science class.
“We took their heart rate then added small amounts of diluted caffeine to observe the physiological effects. Their heart rate rapidly increased and 15-20 per cent of the subjects died,” she says.
Like the daphnias in a university testing lab, humans can consume a fatal dosage of caffeine. For an average adult, 5000 milligrams of caffeine consumed in a short period of time would result in an overdose.
This seems like an unlikely amount for students trying to make it through a night of studying, but caffeine users must keep in mind that they are taking a drug, and tolerances vary. While some people can ride a caffeine high all day and night, others like the 14 year-old who died from two energy drinks, react much differently when it is introduced to the body.
As a student, Schumaker understands the pressure of a heavy workload, but emphasizes the relation between living a healthy lifestyle and feeling energized throughout the day.
“Eating full meals, drinking lots of water, and exercising daily will do more for a student than coffee can ever do.”