Caffeine affects us in different ways, and different people are more sensitive to it than others. On average, adults shouldn’t consume more than 400mg of caffeine a day and adolescents should have much less.
Look out for caffeine consumption
Caffeine is present in coffee, tea, energy drinks and chocolate so keep an eye on how much of these your child consumes. Energy shots are often very high in caffeine and a firm favourite with teens. Drinks with high caffeine (more than 150mg per litre) need to show this on the label, although it is not always clear – and it doesn’t apply to drinks bought in coffee shops. Lots of products high in caffeine are available in health food shops which can give the impression that they’re good for wellbeing but, like many things, can be harmful if taken in large quantities.
Energy shots and drinks
Energy shots can be deceptive as they are tiny in quantity but often packed with caffeine – for example a 60 ml shot can contain around 200mg of caffeine. Likewise, many energy drinks don’t necessarily have huge percentages of caffeine, but they are served in large volumes (half litre bottles) so the amount of caffeine your child is drinking is a lot (160mg of caffeine in a can of Monster), whereas a small glass of the same product would be fine.
Most supermarkets and high street stores have banned sales of energy drinks to under 16s.
If your child regularly drinks one or two cups of coffee each day, it’s absolutely fine to continue this, even during exam time, as their body will be used to it. What’s not good is introducing changes, so they shouldn’t start drinking a cup of coffee or two during revision periods to help keep them alert if this is not something they do regularly. It’s more likely to make them jittery, hyper and unable to concentrate.
Less obvious sources of caffeine are foods. Chocolate cake with chocolate frosting or cup cakes with chocolate topping are likely to be very high in caffeine (as well as sugar) so this is not ideal to eat as a dessert after dinner. Likewise coffee flavoured products can also contain lots of caffeine, so look out for ice-creams, frozen yogurts and milkshakes.
Teens often love isotonic gels, some of which contain as much as 75 mg of caffeine per pack. These are fine consumed in moderation but watch out that your child isn’t having too many or substituting an energy rush when they are thirsty and should be drinking water.
Effects of caffeine
Too much caffeine can result in loss of sleep, loss of energy, low mood and low concentration – the opposite of what’s needed to revise well. Caffeine is also long lasting, so drinking caffeine-high drinks in the afternoon can still impact on your child’s ability to sleep that night. It’s an absolute no to drinking coffee (or other caffeine fuelled drinks) late in the evening to try and overcome tiredness and revise into the night.
Keep an eye on their caffeine intake and, if possible, get them to avoid it completely from lunchtime as a year-round rule.
For more information in keeping your children healthy and supporting them in revising for their exams, see The Parents’ Guide to Exam Revision