Caffeine intake when stressed may cause health problems

Kelly Petryszyn

Come finals week, the Kent Starbucks will be even more packed than usual, as students get their coffee fix for the day to keep up with studying.

But consuming a high amount of caffeine can be harmful to students’ health, especially when students are already stressed, according to a Duke University study.

Health educator Sharon Briggs said in an e-mail caffeine is fine if consumed in moderation.

She said continuous amounts of caffeine, however, put a strain on the body and cause it to work overtime preventing the body from proper rest.

“When someone who has consumed a great deal of caffeine or consumed it close to bed time, does fall asleep, their sleep is not the deep quality of sleep needed,” she said.

The 2002 study by Duke University Medical Center shows caffeine amplifies stress in people who consume it every day. Caffeine compounds the effects of stress psychologically in terms of perceived stress levels, and physiologically in terms of elevated blood pressures and stress hormone levels.

Even so, many students increase their caffeine intake during finals week.

Shawn Robertson, a sophomore business operations major, said he averages about six cups of coffee a day, but he has already started making about two or three more cups of coffee a day.

He said when studying, the coffee “helps me concentrate and stay more relaxed.”

Assistant professor of psychology Joel Hughes said caffeine may be harmful when stressed because it causes nervousness and anxiety – adding to the feelings of anxiety and irritability that stressed students already experience.

Students said caffeine does affect their sleep schedules.

“If (I) drink it too late, I struggle to fall asleep,” post-graduate student Kalli Connor said. The classical studies major said she drinks five cups of coffee each day.

“If I don’t have coffee I get a headache,” Connor said, referring to why she can’t sleep late in the morning.

Hughes said insomnia and headaches are signs of a caffeine withdrawal. This occurs when the body has developed a tolerance to caffeine.

When students consume more than 300 milligrams of caffeine, then caffeine intoxication occurs and there starts to be increased blood pressure and heart rate, Hughes said. This amount does depend on one’s body weight.

But many students continue to drink their caffeinated beverages. Robertson said he tried switching to tea instead of coffee.

“It didn’t do it for me,” he said. “It is more comforting to drink coffee.”

Contact news correspondent Kelly Petryszyn at [email protected].