With midterm season quickly approaching, students everywhere are sacrificing sleep and stretching their study sessions into the late hours of the night in hopes of cramming as much knowledge as they can muster.
To combat the drowsiness that is bound to ensue both during studying and the morning after, many reach for their choice of caffeine: coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, etc.
Caffeine is a powerful stimulant that, when used correctly, can sharpen cognitive abilities, increase alertness and even boost memory consolidation. But how much is too much?
400 mg a day is the magic number for healthy adults, which equals roughly to four cups of brewed coffee, two energy drinks and though not recommended, 10 cans of soda. Consuming more than this amount daily can lead to adverse side effects such as restlessness, muscle tremors, irritability, migraines and even insomnia.
Fortunately, there are ways to combat these paradoxical effects and get the most out of your caffeine buzz. Here’s a quick guide to trumping the caffeine crash and getting optimally wired for all your studious needs.
1. Consume in small, intermittent doses.
Think twice before downing that venti quadruple-shot Americano before your 8 a.m. math class.
A 2004 study published by the U.S. Library of Medicine found that minimal doses of caffeine are actually more beneficial than large doses taken all at once. Small intakes of 20-200 mg an hour counteract the homeostatic sleep pressure that builds up in your brain throughout the day, extending wakefulness and enhancing mental performance.
Your brain has a cap on caffeine effectiveness, so consuming too much at once won’t do you any good. Taking in smaller, more frequent doses will ensure that you’re getting the most out of your java. An average cup of joe contains around 100 mg of caffeine, so start there.
2. Stay hydrated.
Without properly hydrating yourself beforehand, consuming caffeine can actually have reverse effects on your alertness. This is because caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, meaning it reduces blood flow by constricting blood vessels.
Caffeine lowers cerebral blood flow up to 27 percent, a study found. Dehydration paired with this effect causes cerebral functions to reduce significantly due to the decreased amount of glucose finding its way to the brain. So before you pick up that 21 oz Red Bull, make sure you’ve hydrated yourself properly to ensure the caffeine takes its desired effect.
3. Know when to caffeinate.
Yes, there is actually a right and wrong time to get your caffeine fix and it may not be when you think it is.
Your body works on a schedule and produces a hormone called cortisol that is in charge of your alertness and wakefulness. So while you’re having your daily 8 a.m. cup of coffee, your body may already be naturally caffeinating itself! By consuming caffeine during these peak cortisol levels, your body will build a tolerance to the drug, lessening its effect when you actually do need it the most, when cortisol levels are low. The best time for your morning caffeine dosage is around 9:30-11:30 a.m. during the first cortisol dip.
4. Remember there are alternatives.
Instead of heading straight to the canned soft drink aisle at the supermarket, try heading to the produce section instead. Although energy drinks and coffee are usually the first to enter one’s head when thinking of caffeine, there are many other healthier alternatives to consider when seeking an energy boost. Apples are actually better at waking you up in the morning than coffee, due to their natural fiber and fructose.
Ginseng tea is another strong contender, along with Vitamin B12, which can be found plentifully in fish, low-fat dairy and eggs. These items provide similar energy boosts desired of coffee without the major crash.