Caffeine or Failure?

Stuyvesant students are notorious for their caffeine addiction, but where does this problem stem from?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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By Joey Chen

Sleep deprivation is a popular topic among students in every corner of Stuyvesant. Deskmates can be found comparing the amount of sleep they got the night before, prompting disparaging looks from their teachers. Though a shared lack of sleep can act as a convenient talking point, it also worsens a phenomenon that isn’t talked about enough: students’ overreliance on caffeine.

An anonymous survey conducted by The Spectator found that out of a pool of 65 Stuyvesant students ranging from freshmen to seniors, 72.9 percent thought that the school atmosphere affected their daily caffeine intake. Stuyvesant’s heavy workload can pressure students to consume sizable amounts of caffeine just to keep up with their classes. And though drinking coffee only a couple times to stay awake during finals week might not have detrimental impacts on the body, it is the consistent grip caffeine has on students that leads to ill effects. The burst of energy that is received from consuming caffeine allows students to stay up past recommended bedtimes, giving them more time to complete homework and study. In the mornings, they may be sleep deprived and require even more caffeine to help them stay awake. This perpetuates a seemingly unbreakable feedback loop of caffeine consumption and constant sleep deprivation, which can disrupt natural bodily functions. 

On the surface, caffeine presents itself as a hero for the average student looking for a quick and easy way to stay awake. The substance keeps one alert and awake because it blocks the adenosine receptors in their brain, which are responsible for causing sleepiness. In addition, caffeine is absorbed and dispersed in the body at a rapid rate, allowing for quick blocking of these receptors; after consuming caffeine, your body not only wakes itself up, but also does so extremely fast. Unfortunately, this burst of vitality can dissipate almost as quickly as it comes. After the caffeine concentration in your body disappears, the once-blocked adenosine receptors build and speed up the process of causing drowsiness, which can make a person even more tired than they were before consuming the caffeine. This can lead to drowsiness, which in turn leads to further caffeine consumption.

However, consuming more caffeine than recommended has been proven to have negative effects on one’s general well-being. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that 100 milligrams of caffeine should be the maximum daily consumption for teenagers, but this limit is easily bypassed by the average Stuyvesant student on any given day. For example, an 8-ounce brewed coffee from Starbucks contains 180 mg of caffeine, almost double the recommended amount for a teenager. The long-term effects of caffeine overconsumption are detrimental to one’s health, resulting in restlessness, insomnia, a faster heart rate, and dehydration. 

The results of The Spectator’s survey suggest that coffee is the most widely consumed caffeinated substance among Stuyvesant students. The most common forms of caffeine consumed by respondents were coffee (55.9 percent), caffeinated chocolates (20.3 percent), energy drinks (11.9 percent), and soda (11.9 percent).

Some students believe the popularity of coffee stems from its accessibility. Respondents mentioned the coffee cart near Chambers Street as one popular purveyor of caffeinated beverages. “The bagel cart [is where most students get their coffee] because when you leave the train station, it’s right there,” senior Brian Kang stated. 

In addition, long commute times to Stuyvesant can create conditions that exacerbate caffeine consumption. “Many students [...] have a long commute both to and from school, which, in addition to schoolwork, limits the hours of sleep they get at night. I think this, as well as the convenience of both Terry’s and Ferry’s being close by, makes students want to take caffeine before or during school,” freshman Jane No said.

Social stressors also seem to have a significant impact on the normalization of high caffeine consumption. If students convince themselves that there is a correlation between caffeine consumption and good test grades, the never-ending cycle of consumption is perpetuated. “Sometimes peer pressure can come into play. If students notice other students achieving higher grades with coffee, they might also start drinking coffee,” an anonymous freshman stated.

In contrast to the student body, Stuyvesant teachers don’t notice a pattern linking caffeine consumption and test scores—in fact, many do not consider caffeine to be a significant player in the classroom setting at all. “I honestly do not see many students drinking beverages in my classes. I do notice certain students on occasion with a specialty Starbucks drink, and I wonder if these students have a job or if their parents give them an allowance for that. Other than that, I have not really thought about students drinking caffeine,” social studies teacher Lee Brando stated. Students’ relationships with caffeine seem to be mostly confined to their commutes, then.

 Health teacher Barbara Garber has a different perspective on students’ caffeine dependencies. “For the first and second periods, students are coming in with drinks, and I ask them to place them on my desk until the end of the period.  I want to be careful about drinks spilling, especially when it is not my classroom, but if it is a cold drink, I am not really sure if it is coffee,” Garber related in an e-mail interview. “A lot of students like the Starbucks Frappuccino.” 

Brando has also taken initiative to help students rely more on natural forms of energy, such as sleep, to fuel their school days. “I have routinely encouraged students to get eight to nine hours of sleep daily. I worked on a curricular unit with [fellow social studies teachers] Dr. [Rosemary] Polanco and [Josina] Dunkel a few years back for the health teachers regarding sleep hygiene,” Brando continued. Through initiatives such as these, Stuyvesant teachers attempt to address the unhealthy lifestyles adopted by many students. 

Unfortunately, uncontrollable circumstances, such as Stuyvesant’s intense workload and students’ long commutes, inevitably allow caffeine to creep into students’ lives. It can be difficult to turn one’s back on a glossy iced coffee from Starbucks or a vibrantly colored can of Celsius from Ferry’s, but an easy first step is to recognize the long-term impacts that caffeine might have on your health.

Every person’s body is unique in how it functions and responds to external stimuli, so there is no definite answer to how caffeine consumption should be addressed in the student body as a whole. This is why students owe it to themselves to experiment with different strategies and routines to bring themselves up to their best mental and physical state. “I personally find that drinking a cold drink in the morning, such as water or tea, brings the same awakening effects of coffee,” the anonymous freshman stated. There are countless other creative methods students use to stay awake, and becoming willing to depart from caffeine is a great start to exploring these paths. Most importantly, students should recognize that high grades are never a precursor to satisfaction or emotional well-being. Instead, they should focus on listening to their bodies and taking time to rest and refocus, perhaps with a cup of decaffeinated tea.