Every morning I wake up with the smell of coffee on my mind. A warm mug pressed against my palm in the dark whilst listening to Tove Lo embodies my idea of the perfect morning. But, while I do adore the taste and smell of coffee, the caffeine is what I’m after.

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My idea of a good morning.

A combination of tennis, homework, and PSAT studying prevents me from getting more than 6 hours of sleep per night. And, according to the National Sleep Foundation, as we’ve all been told at least a thousand times, teenagers need between 8 – 10 hours of sleep every night. Since that is simply not possible, the first thing I think about in the morning is coffee. Without it I experience the common symptoms such as headaches or irritability because my body’s used to receiving at good dose of caffeine at least twice a day. Or, when I accidentally drink a giant thermos full of espresso – which has happened before – I am consumed by anxiety and excitement to the point where I cannot function. But on those days when I strike the perfect balance of coffee, I perform as I would had I gotten the recommended 8 – 10 hours; at least, that’s how it feels until the afternoon. But, despite coffee’s benefits, the drawbacks require me to warn you against going down the same path. It’s too late for me, but you still have time.

You think you can stay up until 1 in the morning and still wake up at 5 because you’ll just drink two cups of coffee. But that is just not true.

One big issue with caffeine consumption is that if you’re someone who manages anxiety, caffeine will exacerbate those feelings. If you don’t have anxiety, caffeine can convince you that you do. According to Mayo Clinic, the recommended amount of caffeine per teenager is about one cup a day, and usually people who drink coffee daily consume more than this amount. So people who already have anxiety will feel their heart rate increase and become jittery – common symptoms of caffeine consumption which will increase a any anxiety already present. Similarly, someone who does not manage an anxiety disorder but happens to be more sensitive to caffeine can experience severe discomfort in the form of nervousness, muscle tremors, and general anxiety from caffeine consumption. It’s much better to recognize these patterns early on to gauge your caffeine tolerance and body’s reaction to it.

Another huge problem affecting avid coffee drinkers is this: eventually, caffeine will become associated in their minds as a replacement for sleep, when in reality it gives them about an extra hour of energy before mentally and physically crashing around 4 o’clock. So here’s the most important lesson I’ve learned throughout my high school coffee experience: coffee is not a substitute for sleep. You think you can stay up until 1 in the morning and still wake up at 5 because you’ll just drink two cups of coffee. But that is just not true. Yes, we all hear it over and over again: sleep is important.

A cat who is not relying on caffeine to stay awake sleeps peaceful: this should be you after 1 AM. Fair use image from FlickrCreativeCommons
A cat who is not relying on caffeine to stay awake sleeps peacefully: this should be you after 1 AM. Fair use image from Flickr Creative Commons

And that’s because it is. I suppose the issue is not that people don’t realize it’s important, they just ignore it because schoolwork is more important. And so here’s where time management skills come in: get your work done before 1 AM. If you get only 5 hours of sleep, then don’t reach for the coffee. Instead find other ways to wake up such as listening to an upbeat morning playlist, eating a good breakfast, or drinking tea in place of that super-strong cafe con leche.

Put the coffee down and try to limit yourself to the recommended 1 cup, or less, per day. Your mind and body will thank you.

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