27 September 2015

Today's #Sleeptember Commentary --- Enough with the energy drinks already

This awesome infographic comes courtesy of The Family Compass. 
From the Curator:

I was standing in line at Walmart once and a family with a little boy around age 8 was ahead of me. The boy yanked on his dad's arm enough times while pointing at the impulse aisle that his father finally relented. I smiled, reminded of the days when we used to do this to my Mom at the grocery store, hoping to get a Charleston Chew or Butterfinger or Brown & Haley's Mountain Bar out of our efforts.

The boy opened up the refrigerate section there and pulled out a tall Monster energy drink instead.

Wait... what?

The parents mindlessly placed the can on the conveyor belt with the rest of their groceries. The boy was so excited! I was shocked.

Not that a candy bar is a better option than a can of soda. I realize that both are bad choices. But a kid at age 8 grabbing a soda that's been highly caffeinated on purpose strikes me as a bit concerning.

He didn't strike me as a hyperactive kid, so I thought maybe it was just a sometimes treat, like my candy bar winnings at the supermarket when I was a kid.

Then the father stepped over to the refrigerator section and grabbed himself a can. And the mother followed suit.

At least it was late in the morning and not right before or after dinner. Then I might have even had the nerve to step up and ask the kid's parents if they knew just how much caffeine their kid was consuming and whether they had problems getting junior to sleep at night.


It would seem obvious that consuming a product such as a so-called "energy drink" would likely interfere with one's sleep. These products contain caffeine. They are meant to stimulate the brain and body. This is why they are manufactured in the first place.

What consumers don't seem to understand is timing. Drinking caffeine in the afternoon and evening is going to alter your circadian system and disrupt your sleep onset. Not my opinion; there's a ton of evidence showing that caffeine not only overstimulates the central nervous system in such a way as to interfere with sleep, but that it actually resets your circadian rhythms in a way that can lead to big problems down the line for most of us who are already sleep deprived and can't afford to give ourselves additional insomnia or, worse, a full-fledged circadian rhythm disorder.

Or maybe consumers do understand the timing... the most popular demographic of energy drink consumers is the teenage to college age subset. These energy drink fans usually turn to the beverage for a morning pick up (rather than coffee), or to stay up late (to study or participate in other late-night activities) or to stay awake during class in the afternoon (probably because they stayed up late to study or participate in other late-night activities).

But don't take it from me. I love coffee and cola and tea as much as the next person, but the writing is on the wall for all of us. Read more about energy drinks and their negative impact on sleep health here:
    Energy drinks aren't exactly the same thing as coffee, by the way. Check out the informal chart below (data pulled from the Caffeine Informer database). Listed are a few popular energy drinks, including a couple of "shots" (as opposed to tall cans) and coffee and soda listings for comparison.

    While a cup of coffee offers about 20mg of caffeine for per fluid ounce, take a shot of 5-Hour Energy and you're getting 100mg per fluid ounce of caffeine in a little sip! And the popular energy drink, Hijinks, measures in at almost 182mg per fluid ounce in a shot half the size of 5-Hour Energy!

    If that doesn't blow your mind already, there are nearly 400 different varieties of energy drinks listed in the Caffeine Informer database. Who knew? Yes, the energy drink market is vast and compelling when you consider that it's not the only source of caffeine beverages we can purchase freely. Think about all the tea products on the market, the cold-brew coffees, the cold coffee drinks, the caffeine-spiked waters and caffeinated fruit drinks, the sodas and colas, and, of course, America's favorite pastime, coffee itself--from drip to espresso to latte to Americano to the current seasonal craving, PSL*.

    Keep in mind a few other things when considering the chart numbers. For one thing, a cup of drip coffee has no calories and no sugar (unless you add them afterward). The amount of sugar that makes up these energy drink formulas is pretty high and can also lead to that stimulant feeling simply by giving the consumer an instant sugar high. (Diabetes, anyone?)

    Also, many energy drinks include other stimulant supplements as ingredients. These may be natural products but that does not mean they are any more or less safe than caffeine for people with heart problems, respiratory problems, ADHD, and/or problems with sleep. Guarana, kava, creatine, ginseng and taurine are popular additions which have side effects of their own, such as aggravation of asthma, central nervous system dysfunction, eye problems, insomnia, and heart irregularities.

    Finally, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that adolescents get no more than 100 mg of caffeine daily, but nearly all of the energy drinks listed in the chart below far exceed that amount in the packaging sizes most commonly purchased and consumed.

    For the boy in Walmart, the AAP is far more restrictive: no daily consumption is recommended. I hope that boy was just having a rare treat that day, but judging by his parents' behavior, I'm inclined to think this problem with energy drinks is probably already a family affair.

    Fortunately, quitting energy drinks is not so much different than kicking the coffee habit. Hard, but not impossible. It might take longer with coffee drinks because the brain and body become habituated to higher levels of regular caffeine via energy drinks than they do with simple drip coffee, and there is also the sugar (and, potentially, the supplement) habit to also kick, but with concerted effort, one could still wean oneself off this habit.

    With that in mind, here are some ideas for kicking the Monster can to the curb (but please, recycle it, k?):
    *PSL = Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte.