By Victoria Mejicanos, Sept. 27, 2022
Caffeine comes in many forms. Whether from a soda, a Red Bull, or the classic coffee, many have had it.
Growing up, I used to look down on adults for their obsession with caffeine. I laughed when I first heard someone refer to coffee as the “nectar of life.” I thought people were ridiculous for needing it and exaggerating its greatness.
Well, in a way they were right. Caffeine is essential. I love caffeine. I need caffeine. Until recently, I didn’t think that was a problem until I accidentally went five days without it. I had felt the consequences within those five days, but never thought it would have the effect it did.
On Friday, I had the worst headache. By the time I got home from work, I found myself so agitated and in pain I couldn’t even keep up with the plot of a movie. I couldn’t think. All I felt was pain, and the weekend seemed like it was going to be one of the worst.
Saturday came and went with a lingering headache. I even thought of buying a coffee but skipped on it because I naively thought, “I’m not doing anything important today, I don’t need it.”
Then came the dreaded Monday. I didn’t even recognize myself that day. I was depressed, unmotivated, and in the worst pain. I was bloated even though I hadn’t eaten very much; my head was throbbing, and I basically spent the day in bed contemplating my life choices, trying to sleep the pain away.
It wasn’t until I got some relief that I started to think about what could be causing such a dramatic change in my outlook on life. I called my dad for advice, when he asked me, “When was the last time you drank coffee?”
It all clicked from there. I googled caffeine withdrawal symptoms and was amazed that every pain I felt, whether it be physical or mental, was on a bulleted list in front of me. The next morning, I had a large cup of coffee from a local café, thinking there wouldn’t be that much of a difference except my headache disappearing.
I was wrong. From the first sip alone, I felt different. The entire day, I was an elevated version of myself. I was talking to strangers, answering questions in class with no hesitation and overall being a more social and engaged student. I was euphoric at some points in my day. Colors even seemed brighter. I had the upmost confidence. Just thinking about it makes me laugh. I truly felt so elated the entire day.
It wasn’t until I had the time and energy to think about it that I realized this wasn’t something that should feel so normal. “Then, I realized that if I asked anyone, many would probably think it’s normal to need caffeine. Other coffee drinkers might find me relatable. It would be something we could all laugh about. But pain isn’t funny.
As my fascination with caffeine addiction has grown, so has my research. According to Johns Hopkins Medical School, “caffeine related performance improvement is nonexistent without caffeine withdrawal.” In other words, the elevated feeling I had was only because I had gone so long without my daily intake. Otherwise, I would feel totally normal.
Feeling all that negative emotions that the withdrawal caused me, I began to wonder what it was doing to my body on a regular basis. The most common effect I found, and one I related to the most, was a lack of healthy sleep. Caffeine blocks us from feeling a chemical called adenosine. Adenosine tells our brain and body to get ready for bed. After an extended period of blocking adenosine, we get hit with it like a truck. This is what causes that “crash” that comes after consuming caffeine. Then unfortunately, the cycle starts again once we feel that crash. consuming caffeine. Then unfortunately, the cycle starts again once we feel that crash.
Author Michael Pollan who wrote about the subject and its effects in his book “Caffeine” spoke with NPR about his experience quitting for three months. Regarding sleep, he stated, “It was amazing. I was sleeping like a teenager again.” In the same interview he calls caffeine “the enemy of good sleep”.
Furthermore, according to Pollan, caffeine prevents deep sleep, which is essential to a person’s physical and mental well-being. Deep sleep is also responsible for our working memory, which means if a student doesn’t get enough deep sleep, they might not be able to process everything they learned in each day.
Personally, I’m still a teenager and can’t remember the last time I slept like one since freshman year of high school. Understanding the effects it can have on my learning was the scariest part of realizing I need it to get through the day.
Not only does it affect your brain, but it also effects your body. A symptom students might be familiar with, depending on their tolerance, is what it can do to your digestive system. According to Healthline, “some studies suggest that caffeinated beverages may worsen gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) in some people. This seems to be especially true of coffee.” Aside from our digestive system, it also spills into our cardiovascular system. It can cause an increased heart rate and even lead to a condition called atrial fibrillation.
My intention is not to shame or scare students into quitting caffeine. I know that for many, it’s part of a ritual. Maybe you like the peace of making coffee quietly in the morning. Or perhaps like me, it feels like a special part of your life because you watched people you love make it every day. However, its effects are still something to consider.
If you ever do find yourself wanting to quit caffeine or cut back, there are several resources online as to how to quit caffeine in a way that doesn’t end in pain and suffering. Whatever you do, don’t quit cold turkey. The pain that results will make you come crawling back to caffeine again.
Feature image by Jackson Gray
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