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Our Semester’s Holy Grail: Caffeine and its effect on our Mental Health

by: Lesly Gissell Zhicay

Overwhelmed and ready for the semester to end. As the semester kicks off and assignments and prelim start piling up you may find yourself reaching out for your daily (or more than daily, we don’t judge) caffeine fix. But how does our favorite venti latte or energy drink get us through the semester and how can we ensure that we remain energized in healthy ways. More on this in our weekly health and wellness blog.

Like most things in life, caffeine is neither wholly good nor bad, but our relationship with caffeine can positively or negatively affect our health. Whether you are doing it because you need the caffeine fix that makes your brain and arms jittery enough to start doing that assignment you’ve been procrastinating on or you simply like the taste, caffeine can have serious positive or negative effects on our body.

So how does caffeine work?

Caffeine blocks a key sleep-inducing molecule, adenosine. Neurons in our brain have receptors perfectly tailored for adenosine and when adenosine reaches these receptors, it activates a cascade of biochemical reactions that cause us to feel sleepy. However, when we consume caffeine, caffeine molecules block adenosine by linking to these adenosine receptors, inhibiting adenosine, thus, keeping us awake and alert. Beyond keeping us awake/alert caffeine also allows dopamine to flow more freely helping us experience more positive feelings. And has even been linked to lessened risk of depression and even reduced the risk of suicide amongst men.

Now this does not mean we should drown in coffee in order to cure our seasonal depression. Having a healthy relationship with coffee is crucial in ensuring that we are able to experience its positive benefits without suffering from its negative consequences such as (but not limited to) restlessness and insomnia. Individuals are recommended to drink 400 milligrams or about three to four cups of home brewed coffee. It is also important to note that often times we are not consuming pure caffeine, if we are consuming coffee or soda there are added layers of processed sugars that we may need to be aware of and its effect on our body.

While caffeine may help get us through the semester, it is important that we evaluate our relationship with caffeine not only to keep us productive and prevent burnout but to also ensure that we are listening to our bodies. While caffeine may aid us in keeping us alert it is affecting our system and can have serious withdrawal effects if we depend on it too much which can reverse or even worse any positive effects we may experience under caffeine. So, every once in a while, evaluate whether instead of going to your favorite café, you could take a walk or take a nap or maybe drink some water.


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