The Brew-tal Truth

A look into caffeine consumption inside our community and the effects it has on busy students and teachers alike.

Bella Gallus, Staff Writer

Celsius cans, BetterBuzz, Brick and Bell, and Starbucks cups are clutched in the hands of a number of weary-eyed, visibly exhausted students facing a full day of classes and extracurriculars. Teachers have their reusable mugs in hand, filled to the brim with steaming hot coffee, preparing for a day of teaching. Maybe consuming caffeine is an easy way to pick yourself up in the morning or is simply a routine habit.  

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), caffeine is the most widely consumed drug; “approximately 73% of children [consume] caffeine on a given day.” While caffeine consumption can provide certain benefits, overuse can lead to detrimental consequences—especially in teens. So, is caffeine a helpful tool to increase productivity or is it simply a crutch that students lean on?

Caffeine is in many drinks and food items like coffee, energy drinks, teas, and chocolate.  Medical News Today reported that “83.2% of teenagers consume caffeinated beverages regularly.” 

Caffeine is categorized as a safe drug by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). This means that when it is used in the right dose in the right patients without mixing it with other drugs, its benefits outweigh the risks. The recommended safe amount for adolescents is 100 milligrams; for adults it is 400 milligrams. For reference, one cup of coffee contains 100 milligrams of caffeine. But drinks like Celsius, an energy drink that was available in the vending machine on campus, has 200 milligrams, two times the allotted daily amount for teenagers. When students were asked how much caffeine they consumed, the answers varied. In a recent Tower survey, 41.9% of the 265 upper school students and faculty respondents say they consume between 100 and 200 milligrams of caffeine per day. Angie Villachica (‘24) reported, “On weekdays [I consume] about 128 milligrams, two teaspoons of matcha,” while Callum Bolitho (‘24) said he is consuming 300 to 600 milligrams of caffeine per day.  

The easy accessibility of vending machines and the widespread popularity of coffee houses contribute to increased caffeine consumption. 64.2% of survey respondents say they buy caffeinated drinks from coffee shops. Often, a few students can be spotted in the Better Buzz, Brick and Bell, or the Starbucks near campus. 

Several students and teachers explained they consume caffeine for the energy it provides them. Students balance a life of school and extracurriculars, and teachers have curriculums to prepare and classes to teach. 38.6% of survey respondents say they caffeinate to wake up in the morning. Additionally, 39.8% of respondents say they consume caffeine in order to stay awake during the day. Jennifer Miller, an English teacher, also uses caffeine to help her get through the morning. “I have two really big mugs of coffee from the time I get up in the morning to probably the time I get to school.” But for some, that consumption might be better for sustaining energy throughout the school day. Angie said, “I think it’s helped me focus or at least be awake to try and focus.” Both are positive outcomes of consuming caffeine.

Following a long school day are often sports. Caffeine gives that extra energy boost an athlete may need to power through practice. Harvard Health reported, “Caffeine can also briefly enhance athletic performance.” As a competitive swimmer, Callum consumes caffeine to “energize [himself] for swim practice.” It can be beneficial to consume caffeine before an early morning or after-school practice as a stimulant.

Nonetheless, the side effects of consuming caffeine may not always be beneficial. “Caffeine locks into the same receptor in the brain as the neurotransmitter adenosine, a natural sedative,” reported The New York Times. Therefore the drug inhibits drowsiness. Consumption of recommended amounts of caffeine, early in the morning, can be harmless as a person can generally metabolize it before nighttime. 

However, ingestion in the late afternoon or before bed disrupts ones’ sleep cycle, a dangerous consequence of caffeine. The Sleep Foundation wrote, “Caffeine notably reduces the time of slow-wave sleep, which is the stage of deep, restful sleep that leaves us feeling refreshed and alert in the morning.” Waking up tired can lead to consuming more caffeine in order “to wake yourself up.” This can be a vicious cycle to fall into: waking up sleep-deprived, consuming caffeine to feel more awake, then having non-restful sleep due to the caffeine. Having control over one’s own consumption is important. French teacher Ms. Rikke Sommer said, “I do not drink it at night because [I know it] impacts my sleep.” 

A fitful sleep due to caffeine may not be applicable to all. Callum said, “I don’t think caffeine has many effects on my sleep schedule because I think I’ve developed a sort of tolerance for it.” Building up a tolerance or having the ability to metabolize caffeine quickly can prevent disturbance in one’s sleep cycle from happening. But this is rare. Sleep is important for students and teachers alike. 

Caffeine might most notably affect sleep schedules but mood and mental energy are also both positively and negatively affected. Consequences of overconsumption for adolescents are “putting them in a bad mood, depriving them of sleep and contributing to misbehavior, such as risk-taking and aggression,” wrote The Washington Post. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system and the brain, increasing anger, anxiety, and restlessness. 

However, there are benefits of consumption, in acceptable doses. Caffeine can increase alertness and according to Dr. Tyrone Bristol, Ph.D, Medical Director of Pediatrics in Panther Creek who spoke in a University of North Carolina Health Talk, “A little bit of coffee can help you be alert to give you a little bit of good mental energy.” Callum reported that caffeine “makes [him] happy.” And a shocking experiment from The New York Times reported that there was “a 50% reductio

Popular coffee shops like Starbucks, can be found throughout the Birdrock and La Jolla areas, often common places for residents to consume their daily dose of caffeine.
Students often frequent coffee shops like BetterBuzz for a morning boost, facing the long day of classes ahead.

n in the risk of suicide among both men and women who were moderate coffee drinkers,” as it was possibly helping the production of brain chemicals containing an antidepressant. Additionally, consuming 400 milligrams of caffeine per day can reduce death rates in adults. In a 2015 study published by Circulation, of 200,000 people who were followed for 30 years, those who drank three to five cups of coffee per day had a lower risk of premature death.

These benefits and consequences of caffeine consumption are very real, unlike the common misconception that coffee will stunt growth. This has been disproven. A study that “followed 81 adolescents for six years found no connection between caffeine and bone density,” reported The Washington Post. Caffeine is commonly linked to osteoporosis, a brittle bone disease, which is believed to make one shorter. However, osteoporosis is not linked to height loss and coffee is not linked to osteoporosis. Harvard Health wrote, “​​There is no scientifically valid evidence to suggest that coffee can stunt a person’s growth.” 

Caffeine consumption can have different effects on different people, but for many “It’s habitual, it’s a ritual, and it is a dependency,” said Ms. Sommer.