Sara Bellum
February 7 2012

Note: This post has been updated here.

Do your parents or teachers start the day with a cup of coffee? There’s no question that coffee is a popular drink—the National Coffee Association estimates that Americans drink 400 million cups of coffee a day. It’s the caffeine in coffee that provides the energy boost that many people claim they need to function.

Caffeine has that perk-up effect because it's a stimulant. It blocks a brain chemical, adenosine, which causes sleepiness. Caffeine is found in tea leaves, coffee beans, cacao (used to make chocolate), and cola nuts (which come from the plant that gives soda its flavor). It's also found in many foods and drinks—non-cola sodas like root beer and orange soda, hot cocoa, and ice cream—and in some medicines. The latest place to find caffeine is in energy drinks.

Caffeine’s Effects—Not Totally Harmless

Caffeine is a mild stimulant and not a drug, so its use isn’t regulated like prescription drug use is. Still, consuming too much caffeine can make you feel jittery or jumpy—your heart may race and your palms may sweat. If caffeine is taken in combination with other substances, like alcohol, it can really be dangerous because mixing a stimulant and a depressant like alcohol confuses the brain.

A recent report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration shows that emergency room visits for high doses of caffeine have increased sharply. The likely cause is caffeine-infused energy drinks mixed with alcohol. Those most affected? Young people between 18 and 25 years old.

So What’s a Body To Do?

Everyone needs to perk up in the middle of a long day from time to time, but a jolt of caffeine isn’t your only option. Here are a few alternatives you can try to feel energized without overdoing the caffeine:

  • Sleep. This may sound obvious, but getting enough sleep is important. Teens need 9 hours of sleep a night.
  • Eat regularly. When you don’t eat, your glucose (sugar) levels drop, making you feel drained. Some people find it helpful to eat four or five smaller meals throughout the day instead of fewer big meals.
  • Drink enough water. Since we are more than two-thirds H20, our bodies need at least 64 ounces of water a day.
  • Take a walk. If you’re feeling drained in the middle of the day, it helps to move around. Do sit-ups or jumping jacks. Go outside for a brisk walk, ride your bike.

Now we want to know: What strategies help you keep your energy up during the day?

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