School is exhausting. We all know it. Whether you’re in middle school, high school, college, or a graduate program, school is a never-ending intellectual effort. And whether it’s trying to do two hours of homework every night after soccer practice, cramming for a test you had all semester to study for, or eight hours left to write the last six pages of your essay before a 7 a.m. lecture, it always feels like there are reasons to turn to caffeine.
Energy drinks, which are more widely available today than ever before, are a tempting study aid. They’re a major industry, with an estimated $21.5 billion in sales during 2017, and they’re marketed to everyone.
Energy drinks are good for that night you have to stay up last to get this one thing done, mostly. Packed with caffeine and sugar, the energy-boost they provide is going to be short-lived. Other oft-included stimulants like tyrosine, phenylalanine, and yohimbe may make the high last longer, but with increasing risk of side effects, like medication interactions.
As far as how good they are for studying specifically, research results are mixed. A 2017 study from the Journal of Psychopharmacology on 24 volunteers showed that an energy drink had positive results on memory performance and accurate recall thirty minutes after consuming. Their results showed the improvement linked to the sugar content of the drink, but not definitively.
On the other side of the discussion, a 2015 study from the Journal of the American Medical Association found that energy drinks raised stress hormones in adult drinkers by as much as seventy percent. Studying requires sustained focus, something we don’t do well under stress, and stress contributes also to an overall exhausted state. Another study from CU-Boulder showed that in rats, a caffeine diet could not be stopped without a prolonged stress response, possibly indicting a lasting anxiety disorder.
Energy drinks have their uses. Chug a can of Monster or Redbull to get that art project done before the deadline, or the morning after that unmissable party. But a daily habit probably is detrimental to good study habits. Better time management, sleep hygiene, and diet will do much more. It is worth remembering that caffeine is a drug, an addicting one, and energy drinks should be respected as such.