4 Tips for Students to Safely Use Caffeine Pills

JULY 12, 2016
Pulling all-nighters is almost like a rite of passage for pharmacy students. Needing to absorb tons of information in time for Monday morning exams often causes students to get very little sleep.  
Most healthy adults need 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep per night. However, most students function on much less than that. Some are able to stay awake for extended periods of time based on sheer willpower, but more students are turning to caffeine-containing substances to help them combat the body’s natural desire to rest.
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that often helps improve mental alertness and wakefulness. When consumed in large amounts, however, it can lead to dizziness, muscle tremors, insomnia, irritability, and increased heart rate. 
Coffee alone is pretty harmless, but for some students, it isn’t enough to stay awake. As a result, many turn to caffeine pills, which contain 200 mg of caffeine per pill and are equivalent to 2 cups of coffee, on average.
Caffeine pills and caffeine-containing products like 5-Hour Energy are often found in local convenience stores with very little oversight. However, overuse can lead to many deleterious effects. In fact, as the use of caffeine pills has become more prevalent, the number of deaths from cardiac arrest resulting from their use has increased.

Here are a few tips for students to safely use caffeine pills:

1. Use them as directed
Up to 400 mg of caffeine per day (or about 2 caffeine pills) is generally deemed safe for most adults. Make sure to read the package to see how much caffeine a particular product contains, and then follow the directions. 

2. Plan out when to take them
It can take about an hour for caffeine pills to be fully absorbed in the bloodstream and take full effect. Depending on body composition, it can take anywhere between 3 and 12 hours for the body to metabolize half of the caffeine present. 

3. Take note of your body’s response
When taking caffeine pills, periodically measure your pulse, as it should be <86 bpm. Discontinue use if the pulse is ≥90 bpm.

4. Don’t substitute them for sleep
Caffeine provides a false sense of wakefulness, so if it’s consumed long enough, it can trick the body so much that it eventually gives out. There have been reports of individuals who felt fine 1 minute only to fall asleep at the wheel minutes later. 
All in all, caffeine pills can serve as an effective way to promote wakefulness. However, students consuming these products should do their best to maintain good sleep hygiene and consult their physician if they experience excessive sleepiness.

Alexandra Flores, PharmD
Alexandra Flores, PharmD
Alexandra Flores is currently a fourth-year student at Howard University College of Pharmacy and originally from Brooklyn, NY. She is an active member of Phi Delta Chi Pharmacy Fraternity and the American Pharmacists Association, and she has a strong passion for bridging the gap between patients and their health care team. After graduation, she hopes to use her talents to obtain a career in medical communications. She can be contacted via e-mail at alexandra.flores@bison.howard.edu