By Erin Furman
Coffee. Red bull. Caffeine pills. Ritalin. Adderall. College students across the country use these, other energy drinks and prescription medications to help them focus. For many, pulling all-nighters to finish papers or study for exams is just part of the college experience. What students take to help them survive the lack of sleep, however, should not be taken lightly.
In general, most nutritionists say that people should not consume more than 300-400 milligrams of caffeine per day. Drinking one cup of coffee per day can have beneficial effects on one’s body, but any more than the recommended 400 milligrams can have very harmful effects.
Energyfiend.com cites one 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee as having 107.5 milligrams of caffeine, 8.3 ounces of Red Bull as having 80 milligrams of caffeine, and Monster, another popular energy drink, as having 80 milligrams of caffeine per 8-ounce serving.
A Starbucks fan? One Starbucks grande-sized coffee has a whopping 330 milligrams of caffeine, almost equal to an entire day’s worth of caffeine.
However, most students do not drink just one 8.3 ounce can of Red Bull or one cup of coffee while trying to stay awake hours past bedtime. The energy drink is now available in 12 and 16.9 ounce cans and it is easy to slurp down multiple large cans of caffeine-riddled beverages when writing research papers and cramming for finals.
What to keep in mind? One to three cups of coffee (or the equivalent number of ounces of an energy drink) per day is OK, as long as you are not drinking a lot of additional caffeine beverages like soda or tea. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and try to sleep as much as possible.
A growing epidemic among college students is the habitual use of prescription pills to help them focus, whether it be, pulling several all-nighters in a row to finish a 20-page research paper or studying to pass exams. Drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall are often prescribed to children and young adults afflicted with Attention Deficit Disorder (A.D.D.). As those youngsters reach college age and realize they don’t necessarily need the drugs like they used to, they often turn to university-bound “black markets” to sell their medications in exchange for extra buck to spend on food and partying.
The harm in this trend is that it can interfere with the body’s natural sleep cycle and as with any drug, A.D.D. medications do not lack side effects. According to drugs.com, side effects of Adderall include headaches, insomnia, loss of appetite, and even hallucinations. It is important to only take prescription medication when it is prescribed by a doctor.
One Student’s Story:
Amber Smith* is a Hofstra senior who was working on a major research paper last spring with a male classmate when he offered her Adderall to help her focus. At 3 a.m. in Hammer lab, the pair had been working for several hours and needed an energy boost. Smith took the pill, and says it gave her the type of focus that “was kind of amazing,” although she says she “can’t in good conscience recommend it to other people.”
The one pill Smith took kept her up for 36 hours straight and she “wasn’t even tired.” It was not like drinking Red Bull where students often feel jittery for a few hours and then crash. When Smith did sleep, it was because she had finished her paper, and it was a normal bedtime hour. However, when the drug did wear off, she experienced disorientation. “It was creepy coming off of it,” says Smith. “I was dizzy and things were blurry, but it wasn’t like what you hear about when people take hard-core drugs.”
The withdrawal period was strange, “I didn’t like the experience of it wearing off,” says Smith.
Because Adderall is a drug prescribed to young adults affected by A.D.D., it is meant to help people focus and concentrate on what they’re doing. “If you don’t have that disorder [A.D.D.],” says Smith, “it’s giving you an advantage.”
Some also compare students’ use of Adderall to help them focus, to baseball players using steroids to enhance their performance. In both cases, using performance-enhancing drugs certainly give those an advantage compared to relying on their natural abilities, but of course one must remember they come with a consequence.
According to Smith, a friend of hers who attends Cornell University says he is “morally against it” because “he feels like it’s cheating.” Two students taking the same exam might earn different grades based on how well they are able to concentrate.
Safe Ways to Stay Awake:
The bottom line is, when it comes to pulling all-nighters it is imperative to find a safe way to keep focused and stay awake. According to an article titled “How To Conquer Those Dreaded All-Nighters” on collegebound.net, eating a lot of heavy carbohydrates will make you lethargic. Rather, eating smaller meals rich in protein, such as meats, cheeses, and eggs, will help keep your energy level up.
Fresh fruit is also a good study snack because the natural sugars help keep your mind stimulated. Many students will snack on grapes, sliced apples, and raisins while working on their research papers to stay both awake and satisfied.
The basic things to remember when working with a lack of sleep are to eat lots of protein, stay nutritious while snacking and keep consumption of caffeinated beverages to a minimum. Reaching for that third cup of coffee at four in the morning is fine, as long as it is your last cup for the night and not just another part of your daily ritual.
*Names changed for purposes of this article