It is almost a rite of passage to begin downing uncounted mugs of coffee when college starts. Classes, activities, and studying all demand 24/7 alertness from the student. It has become so natural to pick up a mug in the morning, down another to combat the after-lunch drowsiness, and of course drown in extra mugs to study until midnight (and well beyond).

What is Caffeine?

Basically, caffeine is a chemical found not only in the ground coffee beans that are used in Starbucks or Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. It is also found in cacao beans (most commonly known as the chocolate bean), and tea leaves. It was first added to sodas and softdrinks to add a touch of bitterness.

Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. It increases the heart rate and respiration, and induces an alert state at times of drowsiness. However, if the caffeine-consumer is not sleepy or drowsy, caffeine can lead to palpitations, tremors, and dangerous nervous reactions.

What Does Caffeine Do?

Caffeine taken within the course of a healthy working day is not necessarily unhealthy. In fact, intake of around 4 normal cups of coffee before 4 in the afternoon should have no adverse effects on adults. They are simply enhancing their alertness during the day.

However, if caffeine is used to deliberately interrupt the body’s natural sleep patterns, it becomes harmful. First, it robs the student of needed sleep. 7 to 8 hours of sleep is the recommendation no matter what the age. In addition, sleep is one of the best memory aids and alertness inducers, if that were all the student needed.

Second, caffeine taken in excess of 4 cups a day negates the benefits that added hours of wakefulness gives them. A student who over-drinks caffeinated beverages risks over-stimulating his central nervous system.

This means lessened ability to focus in class, more physical symptoms to distract the student (palpitations, tremors), and even light-headedness. In other words, looking at caffeine simply as a stimulant, it does more harm than good to students–besides allowing them to use less of the 24 hours in a day for sleep.

What is the Effect of Caffeine on the Memory?

A study by researchers at John Hopkins states caffeine enhances memory retention for more than 24 hours after the caffeine is taken. This is short-term memory retention, and it has not been proved that caffeine enhances long-term memory.

This is an important fact for students to know, especially those who take long exams at a time. Caffeine taken 24 hours before the end of an exam, with notes studied right after drinking the beverage, could give them a memory boost. Timed correctly, a student can catch up on more sleep after having a short study session with caffeine-enhanced memory.

Does Caffeine Really Help Students?

“Wakefulness” has become synonymous with “excellent grades.” Students feel like the risk of sleeping more and studying for less hours is too great to take. However, for the sake of present grades, they often risk their future health instead. More sleep, moderated caffeine intake, and well-timed coffee-drinking may save their health and grades at the same time.