Pepperdine junior Bria Dunlap sat in her doctor’s office, listening to her practitioner passively as he diagnosed her with prehypertension. He listed off the causes, gave her the facts and figures. He also suggested that she make a few lifestyle changes in order to help regulate her blood pressure.
“Exercise more,” he said. “Try to stay away from salt and maybe drink less caffeine.”
The last suggestion drew her attention—drink less caffeine? The idea horrified her.
“I can’t do that,” thought Dunlap. “I’m a college student.”
THE CAFFEINE CRAZE
Caffeine is often a quick fix to a college student’s lack of time. With all of the dates, deadlines and commitments that students need to meet, the drug has become an essential part of the collegiate lifestyle. The stimulant, which is known for its energy-inducing properties, has become a crutch for students struggling to stay awake, and a saving grace for those trying to beat the clock and stay ahead of the game.
“Caffeine prevents drowsiness by binding to adenosine receptors, thereby blocking the ability for adenosine to make us drowsy,” said Hannah Dewalt, Pepperdine health and wellness coordinator. “I like to think of [it] as a blanket we toss over our messy room to make it look clean.”
Dewalt works in both the counseling and health centers on campus, assisting with outreach programs. Her main goal is to help students maintain happy, healthy lives, but she fears that the competitive nature of the school can sometimes be detrimental to students.
“Pepperdine students are highly driven,” said Dewalt. “They commit to lots of activities and feel the pressure to carry out each with excellence. My concern is that some students may hide their tiredness and fear of failure behind cozy cups of coffee.”
COFFEE ON CAMPUS
Coffee is arguably the most convenient and readily-available form of caffeine on Pepperdine’s campus, and it is supplied in many locations throughout the school. As many as 16,107 coffee beverages were purchased over a 30-day period by students, beginning in mid-October, according to data from the University’s Micros point-of-sales system.
The school goes through nearly 40 pounds of espresso and 130 pounds of ground coffee on average, weekly. Elizabeth Neptune, Pepperdine’s director of operations for dining services, supplied the data and noted her own observations about student coffee sales.
“Most coffee is sold in the morning hours between 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., and between 12 p.m. and 4 p.m.,” said Neptune. “We do see an increase in coffee sales during finals week for sure in general, but also in the later hours of the evening.”
Pepperdine student Genevieve Gourdikian makes a cognitive effort to work coffee into her day, every day. She starts off with a nice cup of coffee in the mornings, and additional cups are added depending on the weight of her day.
“Depending on how busy and hectic my schedule is,” said Gourdikian, “and how long I need to be awake for, [that] will determine if I drink one or two cups of coffee.”
A DEEPENING DEPENDENCY
The Johns Hopkins Medicine Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit confirms via website that caffeine can be “addictive” and may leave users with an unyielding desire to consume it. Through their research they have found that people will continue to use caffeine, despite having medical or psychological problems worsened by the drug.
Additionally, Hopkins researchers have found that daily administration or consumption of caffeinated products can lead to a buildup of tolerance, requiring the user to up their intake in order to experience the same effects.
Ryan Dufour, junior, said he drinks coffee at least twice a day: once in the morning and again before most of his classes. This is a routine Dufour picked up in while studying abroad in Florence, Italy, as he participated in Pepperdine’s international program his sophomore year.
“In the mornings it’s usually for alertness,” said Dufour. “But especially after Italy…I can appreciate just drinking one [for fun], and sometimes I crave them whether I’m tired or not—and sometimes I need it. When you drink really good coffee it’s amazing,” he continued, “like liquid gold.”
THE CONSEQUENCES AND A NEED FOR SLEEP
The Mayo Clinic’s webpage listed complications that may arise from drinking too much caffeine. The post said that consuming more than four cups of coffee, or their equivalent in caffeine, can lead to insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, irritability, stomach upset, fast heartbeat and/or muscle tremors.
The clinic warned caffeine-fanatics about the dangers of overconsumption, and put emphasis on the fact that even small amounts of caffeine can cause restlessness and sleep problems. This is a consequence that students like Dunlap knowingly choose to deal with.
“[When I don’t have caffeine] I have the urge to sleep a lot more,” said Dunlap. “My productivity goes down, which kind of leads me to procrastinating a little bit more, which I can’t have.”
Sleep avoidance is often a major reason for caffeine consumption. Students want to stay awake in an effort to get their work done, but Harvard Medical School researchers have found that sleep is essential for success and for properly maintaining health.
The school’s website stated, “In the short term, a lack of adequate sleep can affect judgment, mood, ability to learn and retain information, and may increase the risk of serious accidents and injury. In the long term, chronic sleep deprivation may lead to a host of health problems including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even early mortality.”
Pepperdine’s Senior Director of Counseling, Health and Wellness Connie Horton encouraged students to lay off the caffeine and try their best to get a minimum of eight hours of sleep each night.
“When people start really relying on caffeine it can cause more anxiety, more jitters, more sleep disturbance,” said Horton. “It’s basically ignoring your body.”
Horton works closely with students in the counseling center and extends an invitation to any of those who are feeling stressed or feel the need for personal consultation. She also asked that students try to find a way to balance their time in order to stay healthy and well.
“As you’re deciding time management and priorities…try to decide what is most important, that’s non-negotiable,” said Horton. “Make sure you’re living according to your values otherwise you get sick and your relationships are destroyed, etcetera…because you forgot what’s most important.”
THE REALITY OF THE SITUATION
In spite of the warnings, caffeine-intake shows no signs of slowing down on Pepperdine’s campus. Dunlap said she plans on continuing to use caffeine as a supplement to succeed in her education, regardless of the risks she may face.
Dunlap is a public relations major, with a minor in sociology, and is involved in many activities on campus. In addition to attending classes, Dunlap works in the university’s office of admissions, serves as the station manager for the student-led radio station, is a weekly writer and copy editor for the Graphic, is the vice president for Pepperdine’s BSA and also acts as an ambassador for GRAMMY U’s student music program.
When asked about whether she would consider using alternate means to stay energized, Dunlap responded that her course load cannot handle time for more sleep. She said that she has resigned herself to be deprived of proper rest until the day she graduates. If she needs to lower her caffeine intake, she will switch to black tea. Dunlap does not, however, plan to cut it out completely.
“Sometimes I get genuinely concerned for my health,” said Dunlap. “I wish I didn’t need it as much, and it kind of scares me to take as much of it as I do, but I need my degree.”