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Students must be careful
not to rely heavily on caffeine

The common student starts off the semester in a positive mindset with intentions of reading his or her textbook everyday, staying on top of the workload and going to every lecture. But soon these good intentions change as the semester continues onward.

Teachers continue to increase the workload, but Thursday night trips downtown and weekend parties become harder to resist. Serious studying is put off until the night before the test, and many University of Florida students rely on a caffeine buzz to help them through the night.

For many students who do not get enough sleep while trying to cram for a test or write a last minute term paper, coffee and other energy drinks become the answer.

“I try not to drink coffee,” UF senior Andrew Lisi said. “I started needing coffee because I have a crazy schedule that only allows about three hours of sleep, so coffee helps me gain hours that I've lost.”

Coffee is available at virtually every eating establishment on campus for the sleep-deprived student. However, because caffeine is a stimulant, dependence on it can develop as easily as it can with any other drug.

“Two to three cups a day is considered moderate caffeine consumption,” said Janis H. Mena, registered dietician and coordinator of education and training programs at the Student Health Care Center .

Caffeine is a mild stimulant, and when consumed, makes one feel more awake and alert. A high dose, however, may prevent sleep and lead to jittery feelings and increased blood pressure.

The effect of caffeine is different for each person. It may not take much to “wire” a student who doesn't drink caffeine often. On the other hand, an individual who is used to drinking three cups of coffee a day may need more to help keep them awake and alert, Mena said.

To help kick the feeling of addiction, the student must step back and think about why they feel they need to drink such a large amount.

“I'd look at their eating habits and a bunch of other stuff, especially if they are a high stress student with poor time management skills,” Mena said. “If they need to be constantly dependent on caffeine to get through a test or a paper or a project, then there are other things they could be doing in their life that should be addressed first.”

Although many drinkers take pleasure in relaxing with a cup of coffee because they enjoy the taste, others drink coffee solely for the caffeine perks.

“I never used to like the taste of coffee until I came to college,” UF junior Kathleen Caldwell said. “Now I love it. But I drink it mainly for the caffeine to help keep me awake when I go to class or work.”

Regular use of more than three cups of coffee a day can lead to dependence. Some who become dependent suffer mild withdrawal symptoms, such as a headache that can be relieved by taking caffeine.

“Some people get headaches when they try to decrease their caffeine too much too fast when they should gradually slow down,” Mena said. “I really think that everything in moderation is a nice dietetic term to live by.”

And although students will clutch their coffee cups the night before an exam, constantly depending on coffee to stay alert can become a health risk.

“You can't even depend on caffeine to keep you awake,” Mena said. “You really need to get some sleep and really revaluate some other stuff that you're doing. Look at the total picture, not just the now.”

Even when the health risks are known, many students continue to visit the local coffee shop for their caffeine fix.

“I get shivers,” Lisi said. “My stomach starts feeling empty after I have it. My body doesn't react well to it, but I still drink it. That's my dedication to coffee.”

© Bridget M. Carey 2004