It makes perfect sense: Tired teens who need to stay awake through a full day of classes, activities, sports, and socializing are going to do what they need to do to feel more alert and alive. And for many teens, instead of napping, exercising, or eating better for greater energy, that often means turning to caffeinated drinks. Like exhausted adults who need their morning jolt of java to even think about starting the day, more and more sleep-deprived teens are consuming caffeine—the 2006 Sleep in America poll reports that more than three-quarters of adolescents drink caffeinated beverages during the day. A number of my young patients tell me they drink five or six cups of coffee a day on an ongoing basis.
Caffeine, like other stimulants, provides users with a brief burst of energy and sense of well-being. But if you keep drinking it throughout the day to keep that feel-awake feeling going, it can wind up keeping you awake and alert well into the night. If you have to get up at the usual time the next day, you sleep even less and wake up feeling more tired—and turn to caffeine again.
To make matters worse, consuming caffeine can also decrease the quality of the little sleep you get. In a study published in the journal Pediatrics, 191 seventh- through ninth-graders reported their daily caffeine intake and the amount of sleep they got over a two-week period. Higher caffeine intake—up to 800 milligrams per day, the equivalent of eight cups of coffee—was associated with shorter nighttime sleep, increased wake time after sleep began, and increased daytime sleep. The study also documented increased sleep fragmentation and trouble staying asleep once the kids finally dozed off.
Are you rethinking your own four daily cups of coffee? And starting to wonder about banning soft drinks and other caffeine carriers from the fridge? Here’s one other fact to add to your thinking: A recent study correlated caffeine intake with mood deterioration—which means your teen’s mood, and your own, may go downhill even further when you use caffeine to try to pump up your energy after a short or bad night’s sleep.
Caffeine is addictive. If you drink it long enough, you become dependent on it for stimulation. And if you finally decide there are