Lee University runs on coffee, but is that a good thing?

Lee University runs on coffee, but is that a good thing?

Meeting friends for coffee is the #1 pastime for college-aged students. Is their health at stake?

Courtesy of Nathan Dumlao

We think we need coffee to stay awake, focus and have better days. We might be right, but how much is too much?

Experts generally agree that anything up to four cups per day can grant some health benefits, yet the average American only drinks one cup.

Nevertheless, those cups do add up.

As a nation, we drink around 400 million cups of joe per day and 146 billion cups a year—making the United States the leading consumer of coffee in the world.

For sleep-deprived college students, the question remains: is it healthy?

Tucker Shope, a senior at Lee and barista at Lasater's coffee shop in Cleveland, said his addiction to the drink is the most consistently unhealthy part of his coffee experience.

“When you say 'a coffee drinker,' it makes you sound like a smoker or an alcoholic," Shope said. "It’s something that you have to do every single day.”

And on days when Shope thinks he can go without coffee, he finds his willpower lacking.

“I thought this morning when I woke up that I wasn't going to have any coffee until I got to class today, but as soon as I got into work at 5:20am, I was like 'Nope, I gotta have coffee,'” he said. “I only lasted two hours.”

Shope said that his addiction is evidenced by his withdrawal symptoms.

“When I didn’t have my coffee, I experienced grogginess, slowed down thoughts and definitely a headache. It was an unpleasant experience to be sure,” Shope said.

Maria Stoneburner, a junior at Lee and a sociology major, said she also noticed negative caffeine withdrawal side effects when she went through a period of not drinking.

“I started drinking coffee because it was a social event; it was cute. Then I started realizing that, “Oh, I’m getting headaches when I don’t drink this, so I’m going to drink it,'” Stoneburner said. “If I drink coffee, I have more energy.”

But studies show that drinking coffee throughout the day as a means of staying awake can put someone into a never-ending cycle of sleep deprivation—the very thing students are trying to avoid.

Dr. Jason Schmurr, math professor at Lee, said he notices the toll excessive coffee-drinking is taking on the students in his class.

“I do know that caffeine can be abused, in the sense that students can use caffeine to not get enough sleep, which works in the short term but has very bad physical consequences,” Schmurr said.

For quality sleep, experts advise coffee-lovers to put the mug away about six and a half hours before you go to bed, as it takes five hours for half the caffeine in your system to quit affecting you—and caffeine is not conducive to deep, restful sleep quality.

Kyung Woo Lee, a junior public relations major, said he has a friend who drinks four cups of coffee a day, and if she were to quit the habit, he thinks she would be affected negatively.

“If she stopped drinking coffee, I could see how that could hinder her attention in class and academic proficiency.” Lee said. “But I could go a year without drinking it. I mean, I would be bummed, but I’d be okay.”

Sara Groos, a senior public relations major, said she lives with a girl who is a hardcore coffee addict.

“She’s very hyper, and at times she gets high-strung, especially with emotional things,” Groos said. “She can’t sit still—she always has to be doing something. Sometimes we joke around and say that it’s the amount of caffeine that she drinks, and I really think that it may be reason.”

Groos says that caffeine could be the culprit behind excess stress, hypervigilance and anxiety in students.

“I think any type of addiction heightens your emotions and awareness, so I think an addiction to coffee would exaggerate any kind of negative emotion a student may be having.”

Schmurr reflected on his personal struggle with what he sees as the correlation between caffeine and heightened stress.

“I know in times that I have been anxious, I’ve had to not drink coffee because it raises stress hormones too much. I think coffee isn’t a good thing for people who suffer from stress and anxiety,” Schmurr said. “I’ve talked to people who would like to stop drinking coffee, so they probably wish that they never started in the first place. So, if you don’t need it, there’s not a compelling reason to start."

Despite his own intense reactions to lack of caffeine, Shope said he would still recommend coffee to anyone who doesn’t usually drink it.

“It depends on what they’re doing, what they’re trying to achieve or get out of it,” Shope said. “It’s enjoyable. There’s nothing better than watching the sunrise with a cup of coffee early in the morning by yourself, with steam coming off the cup.”

According to HuffPo, there are several methods for making the most of your caffeine intake.

  • Set a cut off time for coffee at 2 pm. Caffeine takes a while to wear off and can cause sleeping problems, even if you don’t feel it. For this reason, it’s best to limit coffee consumption for the morning hours and limit it to early afternoon at the latest.

  • Limit coffee to a maximum of four cups per day. According to the Mayo Clinic, adults shouldn’t be consuming more than 400 mg of caffeine per day, which equals about four cups of coffee. Too much caffeine can cause increased anxiety and irritability. If you have the urge to drink more coffee, choose decaffeinated.

  • Reduce caffeine intake as the day progresses. You’re most likely going to need caffeine early in the morning, when you’re probably feeling a bit groggy and need a boost. This is the best time to drink coffee if you need it. Later in the day, wean off the caffeine by opting for tea (tea with milk is a good substitute) or decaffeinated coffee so you can be caffeine-free by evening.

  • Use a smaller mug. When we use a cup, we’re tempted to fill it up to the top to give ourselves more. When given a choice between a larger and a smaller mug, choose the smaller one to give yourself the illusion that you’re drinking more.

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