Freshman Jonathan Dyer calls himself a “social user,” freshman Shelly Bury says she’s a “regular user.” Getting only a few hours of sleep each night, some students regularly pop caffeine pills so they can stay awake to study.
Bury, who started taking caffeine pills last semester, said she is not addicted but takes one every day and gets headaches when she does not. Though she still gets tired, taking pills “just makes it easier.”
Dyer, sipping a large caramel frappuccino, said he only takes a pill when he has a lot of work or a paper to write.
“You get a pep in your step,” Dyer said. “Everything moves a lot faster. It feels like your fingers move faster when you’re typing.”
Though some students choose coffee or soda, some said they turn to caffeine pills or prescription drugs like Adderall and Ritalin to stay awake and concentrate, especially with midterms approaching.
Susan Haney, outreach coordinator at Student Health Services, said students whom SHS treats for caffeine overdoses are usually fine after drinking fluids, but “some in extreme case(s)” are sent to the emergency room.
Anxiousness, cardiac problems, headaches, increased pulse rate, “the jitters” and shortened breath are side effects of caffeine use, Haney said. She suggests students looking to stop using caffeine and “wean themselves” from the drug.
“If you drink caffeine all the time and stop, you could have some physical withdrawals, only for a couple of days,” Haney said. “People often get severe headaches or feel weak (after stopping). It’s addictive in that sense, but you can easily get off of it.”
Students cited poor sleeping habits, procrastination and late-night partying as reasons for lack of sleep. Most GW students interviewed said they get between four and seven hours of sleep each night on weekdays and usually feel sluggish during class.
“When you cram you’re stressed, so you get things done,” said junior Rachel Berbeza, who was studying at J Street for a psychology midterm Tuesday night.
Experts said college students need between eight and 10 hours of sleep each night to properly function and concentrate throughout the day and cannot substitute anything for rest.
“We replenish our brains when we sleep,” said Daucia Dillon, nightime coordinator of Martin Memorial Health Systems’ Sleep Disorder Center in Florida. “The fact that students can’t concentrate well when they’re supposed to be studying is from lack of sleep.”
Problems associated with sleeping too little include constant tiredness, headaches and possibly falling asleep at the wheel while driving.
Long-term affects such as heart disease are usually only apparent in people with sleep disorders like sleep apnea. Twelve million Americans suffer from apnea, which makes sufferers stop breathing and snore during the night, according to the National Institute of Health.
Snoring, twitching and kicking, which are also associated with apnea, cause the brain to never fully rest, Dillon said.
Cures for apnea include surgical procedures and sleeping machines.
Dillon suggests students get into a sleep routine and refrain from drinking alcohol a few hours prior to going to bed. Though alcohol is a depressant that initially aids sleep, it wakes the brain up a few hours after a drinker falls asleep.
“If you’re not rested and your brain isn’t rejuvenated over night, things are floating around in your head while you’re trying to fall asleep,” Dillon said. “I don’t care how many No-Doz or whatever you take. It’s just a matter of going to bed at a certain time.”
Once students are able to get into bed, some said they cannot fall asleep because of uncomfortable mattresses. Steven Darling, a senior at Syracuse University, co-founded the “Memory Foam” company last semester to combat the problem. “Sleeping on dorm mattresses, cheap apartment mattresses and frat house mattresses for four years, (we thought), ‘there’s got to be something more comfortable than this,'” Darling said.