Imagine a college student. What are they doing? Studying at the library, getting ready for a football game or waiting in line at Starbucks. What are they holding? Their phone, perhaps their dorm key or an iced coffee.
Coffee — a staple of college life. The popularity of the beverage has exploded in the last decade and is arguably an integral part of social culture. Americans consume over 400 million cups a day, as published by E-Importz, and a staggering 92% of that number accounts for college students, as reported by PubMed.
It’s easy to see the appeal. It’s relatively affordable, convenient, helps us stay awake and remain productive throughout the day. Or does it?
Caffeine, the drug found in coffee, is a central nervous system stimulant that accelerates the messages traveling between the body and brain. It’s also an ingredient found in medications used to treat drowsiness, headaches and migraines. Those who consume caffeinated products report feeling less tired and more alert. But, like most things, it affects everyone differently.
Coffee + Penn State Students
For Penn State senior Rachel Chormanski studying both political science and philosophy, it’s all about the energy boost. “It definitely makes me jittery and a little buzzed when I first have it in my system, but thankfully I haven’t noticed any crashing effects later in the day,” says Chormanski. “Sometimes I’ll notice a bit of a headache if I am tired and without caffeine.” They also explain they do not depend on coffee and have found drinking water, eating fruit or taking walks provides a similar feeling of refreshment.
Students who work in campus dining are no strangers to late-night shifts. Senior Angel Antosz, majoring in French and political science, can vouch for that. “My day definitely goes differently if I don’t drink coffee,” says Antosz, who drinks two cups a day. “I think my body is used to a certain level of caffeine each day and without that, I am less productive.”
“It’s easily accessible,” explains junior Sofia Riley, studying computer science. “If I am really tired that day and I do not drink coffee, I will not have the motivation to finish my work.”
“I don’t think my day goes differently without it,” says senior Molly Ellis, who is majoring in education and public policy as well as political science. “While I drink it most weekdays, I don’t always [drink coffee] and have not noticed much of a difference.”
Antosz argues that “the association between caffeine, coffee and productivity really makes college students attracted to it.”
Chormanski points out the stereotype of students relying on ramen and iced coffee. “I think it’s because it’s a legal and accessible study drug that helps you get through a long class or pull an all-nighter.”
According to a 2019 survey administered by the National Library of Medicine, 79% of students claimed they drank coffee to feel awake, 68% liked the taste, 39% enjoyed the social aspects, 31% said it improved concentration, 27% noticed an increase in physical energy along with better mood and 9% found it relieved stress.
So, how does coffee affect productivity? Let’s investigate.
As stated in an article from Healthline, you feel “more awake” when you consume caffeinated products because it connects to the adenosine receptors —neurotransmitters responsible for relaxing the brain and making you tired — in your brain without activating them. This effectively blocks the chemical, causing an increase in both adrenaline and brain activity.
A recent Johns Hopkins University study uncovered caffeine may enhance long-term memory and strengthen your ability to retain information for upwards of 24 hours post-consumption. Additionally, other studies have indicated small doses of coffee can positively affect cognitive performance, temporarily decrease physical and mental fatigue and strengthen problem-solving skills.
However, depending on your intake, coffee can heighten symptoms of anxiety and depression. Moreover, since caffeine has significant influence over the brain’s adenosine levels, it can potentially mess with our sleeping cycles. Digestion issues are linked to excessive consumption too, on top of increased heart rate, blood pressure and acid reflux.
Regardless of the debate, it’s all about what works for you. The effect caffeine has can depend on a multitude of things, varying from the amount, time of day, your height, weight, age and the quality of sleep you got the night before.
Do you drink coffee to stay productive? Tweet us, @VALLEYMag, and let us know!