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Do I drink too much coffee?

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By: Michal Coret/ SHEC

University students are recommended to sleep seven to nine hours a night. Ha! That’s funny. Thanks, science. With increasing sleep debts due to schoolwork, social life and other obligations, many of us turn to caffeine as a solution to stay awake. Caffeine is the most popular substance on university campuses, and also worldwide, with approximately 70 percent of university students addicted.

So how much is too much? The maximum daily caffeine intake is often cited as 400 mg. An eight-ounce cup of coffee, depending on its intensity, can contain 40-200 mg of caffeine. When consumed within this margin, caffeine improves attention, memory, wakefulness, reaction time and athletic performance for some. Additional evidence suggests that that caffeine, in moderation, has positive effects on mood, and may play a role in weight loss. Sounds great, right?

Unfortunately, many coffee drinkers exceed this safety margin. Two cups is just with breakfast. Almost unconsciously, another three or four may be consumed to stay awake during lectures, meetings and assignments. But what are the consequences? Most of the detrimental effects of caffeine are long-term. These include heart problems, deteriorated bone health and even diabetes.

Caffeine may also have effects on the dopaminergic reward system of the brain. This is a pathway involved in drug addiction and a possible explanation for why coffee is so addictive. Withdrawal symptoms (which might appear all too familiar) include sleepiness, poor concentration, headaches and nausea. Studies done specifically on undergraduate students showed that those who drink over six cups of coffee a day sleep significantly fewer hours than their peers. It seems to be a vicious cycle.

Another consideration is that brain development related to planning and emotional control is also critical in the early 20s. Caffeine may have an adverse impact on how these brain functions develop and lead to long-term cognitive changes.

If one were to try the daunting task of leaving coffee behind, the best way to start is a gradual reduction in daily amounts of coffee. This, combined with caffeine alternatives may effectively promote long-term caffeine reduction. If you’re going for a cleanse, cold water and stretching are also good options.

But let’s not paint such a dark (roast) picture of coffee consumption. The bottom line is that caffeine — like most things in life — is best in moderation. If you are drinking three or more cups of coffee a day, running to the washroom frequently and/or wanting to reduce caffeine, there may be merit in evaluating your daily schedule and priorities to see what can be changed. Also, stress is a major hindrance to sleep. In days when sleep seems far away, considering various outlets for stress can improve your nighttime zzzs.

Caffeine alternatives

Green Tea

The most well known alternative has less caffeine than coffee and contains catechin, an antioxidant and disease fighter.

Licorice Tea

This caffeine free tea also replenishes adrenal glands, organs that respond to stress.

Prune Juice

Need something sweet? Prunes replenish your electrolytes, which can lead to increased stamina.

Chai Tea

A creamy chai tea latte will trick your body into thinking that you’re drinking coffee.

 

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