​Teenagers, Caffeine, and Sleep


I have covered this topic in the past but I thought it might be a good idea to revisit in light of the recent attention in the news paid toward caffeine.  CBS News reported recently an increase in reports to poison control centers regarding caffeine exposure and overdose. There have even been reported deaths.

I need to stress that caffeine is safe. However, like any substance, ingesting massive quantities of it can lead to serious consequences. I will first cover the effects that caffeine has on the body but I think it may be more important this time to discuss the implications of our children using caffeine.

In the US, more than 90% of adults use caffeine regularly, with an average consumption of more than 200 mg of caffeine per day - more caffeine than in two 6 ounce cups of coffee or five 12 ounce cans of soft drinks (Medical News Today). For healthy adults, the FDA has cited 400 milligrams of caffeine a day - about 4 or 5 cups of coffee a day - as an amount not associated with dangerous or negative side effects. However, there are no consensus statements on how much, if any, caffeine children should consume. Most experts would agree that caffeine consumption should be limited for children.

But children, particularly high school students, will use caffeine as a means to help with the stress of so much homework and after school activities. Many energy drinks are marketed to the young and are available in convenience stores near schools. Everyone knows that caffeine can give us energy and help keep us awake. But, have we discussed with our children what the dangers are?

Caffeine has many benefits such as performance enhancement (sports, athletes), wakefulness, improved breathing for asthmatics, headache relief for some types of headaches, reduced Alzheimer’s incidence, improved memory, reduced risk of diabetes, etc. When consumed, caffeine reaches peak level in the blood within one hour and remains there for four to six hours.  If too much caffeine is consumed then you can have some side effects such as jitters, nervousness, reflux, heart rate racing, insomnia, headache, high blood pressure, and dizziness.

There are several problems with energy drinks. First, it is difficult to know how much caffeine is in the drink as not all of them list it in the nutritional data.  Second, there is “other stuff” in them that may also act as a stimulant to the cardiovascular system and enhance the effects of caffeine.  Some of the “herbal supplements” are not well studied and there is no FDA oversight.  The energy drinks are much more “drinkable” than coffee and so it is easier to drink several of them at a time.

Then there are the caffeine pills. It is quite easy to swallow a bunch of caffeine pills and therefore take in much more caffeine than would ever be taken in by drinking coffee. Most people do not think there is any danger in a caffeine overdose.

So, now that we have covered the benefits of caffeine and dangers of overdosing, we need to address the real problem which is why our children using caffeine. What is your child trying to achieve?  Why does your child feel they need caffeine?  Are they not sleeping enough? Perhaps part of their sleep issue is the use of caffeine too late in the day.  Do they have good study habits (maybe if they could improve how they study, they would not need to stay awake so late)?  Does your child go to bed when you think they are going to bed? Does your child understand how much caffeine is in a typical drink/pill and how long it will last?  Is your child using caffeine to offset the effects of alcohol or other drugs?


Talk to your child:

· small amounts of caffeine are likely ok

·  caffeine is addicting so if you start now you just make it harder in college

·  go over the amount of caffeine typically found in coffee, tea, energy drinks, pills (see below)

·  strongly discourage caffeine use after 4 PM.  This can set up a vicious circle of not enough sleep so they use caffeine, then they can’t sleep at night, and therefore they need caffeine in the morning.


caffeine amounts:

Coffee: 100-200 mg for 8 oz

Tea: up to 70 mg for black tea

Soda: usually less than 50 mg

Energy drinks: about 200 mg (www.caffeineinformer.com will list the amounts in almost every drink)

Caffeine pills such as No-Doz: 200 mg


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