Effective MCAT Studying: The Effects of Caffeine
In our recent post, we discussed the importance of nutrition and how this can play a critical role in effective studying. As much as you are what you eat, you are also what you drink. Anything that we consume is going to have an effect on the body in some way. Take a walk into the library during midterms and the tables will be covered with coffee, tea, and energy drinks. Caffeine and stimulants have become common place in our studying environments. These magical elixirs are certainly not the fountain of endless studying, but could they be the key to more effective studying?
Caffeine is a bitter, white crystalline xanthine alkaloid that acts as a stimulant. It is found naturally in varying quantities in many different substances. A little history lesson: caffeine was first isolated from coffee in 1820; Pierre Pelletier, one of the contributing French scientists, coined the word “caffeine” from the French word for coffee (café), and this became the English word “caffeine.” Since then caffeine has been used and abused all over the world. The most interesting thing about caffeine is that it affects individuals in several different ways. The positives effects largely outweigh the negatives; it increases attention and memory performance, but when taken in too large of a dosage it can cause nervousness, restlessness, and palpitations. So, with almost 90% of adults in North America consuming caffeine on a daily basis, what is the most effective way to self-administer caffeine?
People receive their daily caffeine in a number of ways, most of which are no surprise – coffee, energy drinks, and tea are all common, while caffeine pills are less so. No matter which way you consume your caffeine, studies are beginning to show that the best way to use caffeine to stay awake is to consume moderate doses over extended periods of time. Check out this study by researchers from Rush University Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. It explains how caffeine interrupts one of the two physiological systems that govern the human sleep-wake cycle. Most people are what are described as morning “big gulp” coffee drinkers or late night, red bull “sippers”. This study is suggesting no matter which way you take your caffeine, you want to spread the dosage throughout the day.
Coffee, tea, and other caffeine-containing beverages should be thought of as tools. There is no need to drink them in large quantities if you don’t need to maintain the high feeling of wakefulness. There are going to be times during late night study sessions, long nights spent in the lab, and those marathon MCAT practice tests that caffeine will be a fantastic tool to use to increase your efficiency in studying, but don’t forget the natural restorative powers of sleep. The body needs sleep, and no matter how much caffeine you are able to consume, nothing will take the place of a good night’s rest. As the expression goes: “If you burn the candle at both ends for too long, chances are the light is going to go out.”