Energy Drink ingredients infographicThe all-nighter. It’s the granddaddy of all study sessions, and it constantly lurks as a dark possibility for students as they approach the end of the quarter.

But no matter how often you think about it, no one is really ready to pull an all-nighter.  It’s always a grueling experience to try to throw together a paper or project at 4am, and the toll on your mind and body is intense.  And the hardest part, by far, is trying to stay awake.

It’s tempting to reach for an energy drink to try to keep  yourself awake.  But should you?

Energy drinks exist to give you an extra burst of energy, usually either physically or mentally.  Energy drinks have been around since the turn of the 20th century, as Coca-Cola itself was originally marketed as an energy booster.  It’s two active ingredients, coca leaves and kola nuts, were both sources of caffeine.  However, the first real energy drink of the modern age was Jolt Cola, introduced in 1985.

Today there are numerous energy drinks including Monster, 5 Hour Energy, Rockstar, Red Bull, and Nos.

Energy drinks have come under fire recently for being too powerful.  These drinks have large amounts of stimulants, and can boost the heart rate, blood pressure, cause palpitations, cause sleep problems, and dehydrate the person using them.  Over time, energy drink opponents claim that these drinks can be bad for heart, cause diabetes, and even increase the possibility of drug use.

So just what is in these powerful drinks? The ingredients in an energy drink range from a wide variety of stimulants, including Guarana and Taurine, but primarily contain sugars and caffeine.  According to researchers at the University of Birmingham an Manchester Metropolitan University, energy drinks serve to activate reward and pleasure regions of the brain.  While this doesn’t sound like it would be effective, it often translates to better performance. Volunteers who got sugary energy drinks in the study were able to complete a physical-training session 2% faster than those who got artificially sweetened drinks.

Caffeine in energy drinks, on the other hand, does much the same thing.  It indirectly boosts dopamine transmission, a neurotransmitter that is particularly good at aiding in reward-based learning.  It also acts as a mimic of a neurochemical called adenosine.  Adenosine is produced throughout the day by your neurons, and the more that you produce, the more your neuron system starts to wind down and go to sleep.

However, caffeine interrupts this process by entering the adenosine receptors without activating them, essentially blocking the receptors from taking in anymore adenosine. This stops the onset of tiredness, while still allowing the brain’s normal stimulants (the aforementioned dopamine as well as glutamate), to function and boost your energy.

Because of this, caffeine has been known to heavily improve mental capabilities, including enhancing performance of complex processes that rely on the right hemisphere of the brain, including extracting meaning from language. This includes proofreading, writing, and learning.

So what does this mean for students?

Essentially, there is nothing wrong with energy drinks as long as you think of them as highly caffeinated.  Caffeine levels per serving in an energy drink range form 6mg to 242mg per serving, and your average cup of coffee has about 100mg per serving.

Keep your drinks in moderation, and  you should be fine.

Tips to pull off an all-nighter:

1. Take a break every hour for about five minutes and move around . You’ll be surprised how much better you feel.

2. Turn off instant messengers, your cellphone, tv, and any email notifications.  You do not have time to be distracted.

3. Eat some food.  Protein-rich foods like sandwiches and cheese will help to keep your blood sugar stable, and to balance out all the energy drinks and caffeine you’ll be downing.

4. Don’t yawn.  It makes it worse.

5. Take a short afternoon nap if you can.

6. Play hard, fast, harsh music.  The more arrhythmic it is, the less likely you’ll be lulled to sleep.

7. Keep the area cold, to help keep you awake.

8. Do not work in bed, on a couch, on the floor, or anywhere you might be able to fall asleep.