We hate to remind you, but final exams are just around the corner. During a misguided but inevitable cram session, it can be tempting to reach for an energy drink (especially if Red Bull has parked a little car outside the school library for a free giveaway).
Energy drinks might keep you awake, but they’ll negatively impact your performance, stress level, mental health, and behavior. You won’t do better on that test or essay, and you could wind up grappling with some serious long-term consequences.
With that in mind, here are the top four reasons to avoid energy drinks when studying.
1. Energy drinks don’t boost focus or performance.
Energy drink companies load their products with amino acids like taurine, B vitamins, and botanical extracts like ginseng and guarana so they can suggest a boost in mental or physical performance (e.g., “Red Bull gives you wings!”).
Unfortunately, there is no scientific basis to these claims—which is why Red Bull settled a $13 million false advertising lawsuit in the fall of 2014.
The previous year, The New York Times analyzed energy drink ingredients under the headline, “Energy Drinks Promise Edge, but Experts Say Proof Is Scant.” Author Barry Meier notes that “the energy drink industry is based on a brew of ingredients that… have little, if any benefit for consumers.”
To make matters worse, there is little to no research on these ingredients’ long-term or combined effects. So not only do they not help, but they could very well hurt in the long run.
2. Energy drinks do increase stress.
Whatever your stress level when you start studying, an energy drink will almost double it.
A November 2015 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that a single energy drink greatly increases stress hormones in otherwise healthy adults. During the study, a 16-ounce can of Rockstar raised levels of norepinephrine—a hormone released during periods of extreme stress (like finals)—by 70%.
School is stressful enough on its own; there’s no need to ramp up the tension even higher with energy drinks. You certainly won’t study better if you’re a ball of stress.
3. Energy drinks can cause long-term anxiety disorders.
It’s probably not a shock that energy drinks spike stress (and blood pressure) in the short-term, but a scary new study out of CU-Boulder suggests long-term mental health damage as well.
The study found that adolescent rats developed lasting anxiety disorders from drinking caffeinated water—even after they were taken off the caffeine diet, and well into adulthood. Their stress hormones soared after the caffeine was removed from their water, and remained high thereafter.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Ryan Bachtell, said, “I don’t think we’re going to ban caffeine… but what has become the game-changer is these energy drinks. Many of them contain a lot of caffeine, and you are talking about a drug that many of us consider to be innocuous, but it can be quite potent in a developing brain.”
This echoes Dr. Kathleen Miller, a Senior Research Scientist at SUNY-Buffalo, who told us, “Because [caffeine is] used without any noticeable negative consequences by an overwhelming majority of people in the United States, we don’t take it seriously as a drug. We should.”
4. Energy drinks can lead to problem behaviors.
If you’re trying to do well in school—or just stay out of jail—the research says you should put the energy drinks down.
Dr. Miller, an expert in this field, explains: “An adolescent or young adult who regularly consumes energy drinks is also at significantly higher risk than his/her peers for problem drinking, recreational use of other stimulant drugs (like Adderall), unsafe sex, physical fighting, driving without a seatbelt, and so on.”
Moreover, a recent UK poll found that thousands of teachers believe energy drinks are to blame for student misconduct.
For exactly these reasons, Middlebury College recently banned the drinks from its campus, citing health concerns, problem behavior, and sexual misconduct.
While some felt Middlebury overreacted or overreached, data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) vindicates its decision. People who mix energy drinks and alcohol (as students often do) are twice as likely to be taken advantage of sexually, to take advantage of someone else sexually, and to ride with a drunk driver. They’re also four times as likely to drive drunk themselves.
So if your plan is to pound a couple energy drinks, finish that research paper, and go celebrate, you should really think twice.
Reach for water or tea instead. You’ll be glad you did.