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What is your experience with caffeine?

  1. Apr 27, 2015 #1
    Hello guys, I once again come to ask of a concern that has been worrying me for some time.

    Last semester as I took much lighter coursework, I had the luxury of having a lot of time to figure problems out, and only consumed a can of energy drink before tests for the assurance. I felt that I was a competent and creative problem solver, and in general was able to think vastly and a lot.

    This semester however, a drastic increase in coursework forced me to drink caffeinated beverages at a near daily basis. As the end of year's approaching, my brain feels restless and lethargic, and I'm afraid that it has lost its function to think. My plan for recovery is to take 3-weeks off during summer not doing any heavy mental exercise; focusing on rehabilitating my health.

    I'm sure the struggle with caffeine is a very common problem among the physics community, and I would like to know your experience with the substance: what is your story with caffeine, and how do you try to maintain healthy mental conditions now?

    I hope this thread, with the help of your input, remains useful for many current and future users in the times to come. That being said, thank you greatly for sharing your experience that will be helpful to many of us.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 27, 2015 #2


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    Forced you? Do you feel that you require caffeine every day just to get by? I usually have a Dr. Pepper during my morning class, and perhaps one more halfway through the day, but I think it's more that I'm addicted to the taste, the sugar, and probably the caffeine, not that it really helps me except to avoid withdrawal symptoms. (Gah! Not the headaches!!)

    Sounds like you're burnt out, and I'd guess you probably aren't getting as much sleep as you need. I wouldn't worry too much.

    I say do what you feel like doing, even if it requires some mental acrobatics. I've never found that thinking about things that interested me to be that hard on my brain. Tiring, perhaps. But not like what you're talking about. I find that being stressed and trying to juggle multiple classes, homework, and everything else in life leads me to get burnt out. I'd make sure to get plenty of sleep, and probably some exercise, but other than that I don't see that there's anything you need to really focus on when it comes to recuperating. You might take the time to look back, figure out the areas that were causing you the most stress, and try to find a way to improve them. For example, I'm terrible about not doing homework at home, so I had to gradually force myself to stay at the school and do my homework, otherwise I'd be behind and find myself rushing to complete it. Which obviously doesn't help.

    I might not be the 'norm' when it comes to caffeine. I can drink a soda an hour before bed and sleep just fine. That's probably why 20 mg of stimulant medication every day doesn't send me pinging off the walls, but merely wakes me up. Still, I try to limit myself, and switched to brisk ice tea for my fix at home, which has half the sugar and 1/8 the caffeine of a Dr. Pepper. If you're worried about the amount of sugar and caffeine, you could try switching to a drink that simply has less of each. I know many energy drinks typically have horrid amounts of both. In fact, if you're currently drinking a lot of energy drinks, that's the first thing I'd do. Stopping cold turkey is unreasonable, but weaning yourself off of it a little at a time is much easier to manage, and lets you avoid those nasty withdrawal symptoms.
  4. Apr 27, 2015 #3


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    As I understand it, "energy drinks" are killers. They have a serious adverse long-term effect on your heart and are only taken by people who do not care about their health. WebMD says that some of them CAN be safe in moderation, but since they are not regulated by the FDA the manufacturers can put anything they like in them and they don't have to list the ingredients so you have no way of knowing which might be safe. I wouldn't touch one with a ten foot pole.
  5. Apr 27, 2015 #4
    Wa-a-a-ay back when I was in grad school I got into academic probation. The next semester I was able to take four (not the limit of three) courses. Burned the candle at both ends and in the middle. Crazy hours (sometimes as much as 20/day) and lots and lots of coffee. I remember making a pot at midnight, finishing it at 200AM, then going to sleep immediately thereafter. I made 4.0/4.0 that semester, brought up my grade point average, and got off of probation. After my last assignment that semester, I stopped the massive chug-a-lug of coffee. I went into what can only be described as withdrawal: nausea, headaches, twitchy, agitated for four days. VERY unpleasant. I never again drank as much coffee. My limit is 2 cups per day "because I enjoy it" not because I need it. I tell myself that and usually believe it.

    These days I'm involved with teaching. I see students guzzling so-called "energy drinks", stoking up on 1/2-gallons of Mountain Dew, and so on. Anything except water. Most if not all of those soft drinks have high fructose corn syrup in them. That stuff is poison. I see students so buzzed up that they are unable to concentrate and cannot maintain a coherent thought more than a couple minutes. Having a conversation with them is like talking to that squirrel character on the "Ice Age" series of movies.

    Advice from the gray-haired dinosaur who's been there, done that: stop the soft drinks, limit coffee, drink lots of water, eat nutritious food, get sufficient exercise & sleep. You may be surprised at how much more energy & concentration (and money) you have.
  6. Apr 27, 2015 #5

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    I had friends as undergrads who would drink Jolt Cola to stay up late. Some took NoDoz. I was able to stay up late without caffeine, even in my most sleepless semesters, where I would average five hours of sleep a night.

    I didn't start drinking coffee until graduate school, where I drank quite a bit. I built up quite a tolerance to caffeine. I could have a two-shot espresso-based drink at 11:00 pm, and be able to go to sleep after midnight, no problem. When I was doing my first post-doc, I drank less coffee, and I remember going back to my grad school to visit friends and having what used to be my nightly cup -- since my tolerance was down, I could not sleep at all that night.

    In Japan, they used to have caffeine chewing gum (they may still have this): "Black Black" and "Super Black." The gum's spokesperson whas Jean-Claude Van Damme. When I tried the gum, I didn't notice anything.

    Now that I am an old man, I drink a couple cups of coffee a day, but generally nothing after 4:00 pm. If I have been increasing my intake, I have some issues with withdrawal when I back off -- mostly just a headache.
  7. Apr 27, 2015 #6
  8. Apr 27, 2015 #7


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    Dear OP,
    caffeine is one of the substances that requires increasingly large amounts over time to get the same effect, as one's brain quickly gets used to it. After a while you need a lot of caffeine to perform at the same level as you initially did without any caffeine. However, it is rather harmless in the sense that even with a immediate and complete stop of intake, withdrawal symptoms are not actually that bad (at worst a moderately strong headache for one or two days) and that the addiction can be effectively completely reset by simply not taking any caffeine at all for two weeks. So, don't worry, you are fine. Your planned three-week mental relaxation program will work and fix this.

    Regarding energy drinks in general: Some other ingredients in energy drinks can also be problematic. In particular, sugar can be a much stronger problem than caffeine, actually. If you are into those things, I would recommend just getting caffeine powder and vitamin B12 tablets (the active components of energy drinks), and then just drinking tea. This is cheaper, has less side effects (e.g., on tooth decay or weight due to sugar), and the physical handling of the caffeine powder or B12 tablets sends a stronger message to your brain of "hey, what I am doing here may be dangerous. I should do it in moderation." than drinking many sweet drinks in cans with vibrant colors.
  9. Apr 27, 2015 #8


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    You are an addict. Stop completely. Drop the energy drinks. Do not drink any "sodas" or colas. If you want to drink coffee again, learn how to do it correctly. Drink only later in the day and do it slowly. If you use coffee correctly, it can help you to just not feel tired.
  10. Apr 27, 2015 #9
    Stick to tea mainly and coffee if you really need to get work done. Those energy drinks people chug like water seem dangerous to me when you see what is in it and how much they consume.
  11. Apr 27, 2015 #10
    Years ago I was working at a small software shop. We hired a third guy who was a Redbull addict. 2-3 times a day he'd go to the store for a redbull, and would always ask if I wanted one. Slowly the two of us started to consume more and more of it to keep up with the new hire. It got to the point where I was drinking 2-3 of the double cans a day.
    I felt like crap all the time. Had constant heart burn, would sweat randomly for no reason, and was quite irritable.
    I finally clued in that it was the caffeine that was the root cause of this. So I stopped cold turkey. The first few days were horrible, but shortly afterward I started to feel better each day. Took a couple weeks till I was finally over it.

    That was 5 years ago, since then I've had maybe 3 energy drinks.

    Myself I've found that caffeine doesn't help keep me awake or alert and just has a negative affect on my health. I don't avoid it, I still drink tea (I like the lower caffeine ones by coincidence), will drink soda, but I won't drink something purely for the caffeine.

    What I have found is other ways to perk myself up. The best method actually is to chew a piece of gum, works great if I'm driving a long distance. When I start to get drowsy I pop in a piece of gum and that wakes me up within a few minutes.
    Try and find other strategies that work =)

    As far as school goes, best piece of advice I can give you is to start work early, as soon as you get it. When I would get an assignment that night I would sit down and go through it. I'd complete the material that had been covered, but quite often it would be on topics that would be covered in the next few days. Those questions I'd put in a max 5-10 min of work on. I'd check the book to see if I could easily gleam a way to proceed. Usually this would exceed my time limit. However the benefit came in the subsequent classes. Having seen what questions were coming up I'd know what to pay extra attention to, or see an example and remember "oh that is exactly like question 5".

    When I started this strategy despite having more overall work I actually found the amount of time I spent working went down, as I'd spend less time searching through notes or the text book.
  12. Apr 27, 2015 #11


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    I'm a part-time student at Columbia, and part-time employee there too. So between work and challanging classes I have a lot of sleepy days.

    I used to have a large cup of coffee every morning (always black, no milk or sugar). Then I would go grab another cup from from the department's kitchen around noon. At 3:30 we have a department coffee hour, so I'd have cup #3 at 3:30 with coworkers. I'd often have another cup toward 6 or 7, especially if I was working late.

    I wouldn't strictly have all 4 cups on any given day, but I would never has less than 2. I think the average was 2.5. Sometimes I would indeed have all 4.

    The result was some really nasty heartburn. Apparently caffeine relaxes the muscle that keeps your stomach closed, and you can imagine what happens when that muscle stops doing its job. The weird thing is that you never notice what's going on until your chest starts hurting and your voice gets hoarse. It's not like you're constantly burping up acid, or anything obvious like that. The condition just subtly seeks up on you.

    My doctor told me to cut the coffee out. I did, and the heartburn went away.

    Currently I have a cup once every few days when I'm really in the mood. I'm dealing with sleepy days just fine without it. I think I was drinking so much just because I enjoyed the taste over water. I didn't really see it as a stimulant, so much as a treat. When I went off I never had any headaches or withdrawal symptoms.
  13. Apr 29, 2015 #12


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    I drink coffee every morning, but I've never seen this as a 'problem with caffeine.' I won't touch most of those energy drinks though.

    I think feeling burnt out like that is perfectly normal for college students at times. Especially when it gets around to this time that the school year is drawing to a close. Half of it is just because college students tend to not get enough sleep. And this lack of sleep isn't always because they've been up late studying. I was only getting about 4-5 hours of sleep every night during the first part of this semester. I had to force myself to start getting to sleep earlier. I'm averaging more like 6-7 hours a night now, which still isn't ideal, but it's made a big difference in how I feel on a daily basis. I typically drink a cup of coffee in the morning while I'm getting ready to leave, and I have a 20 oz thermos that I fill up on my way out which is usually gone by the end of my first class. After that, I rarely drink coffee throughout the day.

    I used to drink a lot of coffee prior to starting college. But I was working 12 hour days a lot of the time, so it became necessary.
  14. Apr 29, 2015 #13
    I think the greatest problem this semester for me was just taking a LOT of irrelevant courses that don't interest me. I think I will be fine after a short break.

    All in all I don't see caffeine as a harmful substance if you know your physiology and build a healthy habit in consumption. I learned energy drinks are definitely not the right way, and just because I've had way too much this semester, I will try to limit myself from having caffeinated beverages beginning this summer and find more healthy ways to stay energized throughout the day.

    It is very helpful to hear your experiences and advice on caffeine consumption. Thank you all for the input!!!!
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