In December of 2011, 14-year old Maryland teenager Anaïs Fournier was hanging out with friends at a local mall when she drank two cans of Monster Energy Drink, a popular beverage that contains large amounts of caffeine and sugar. The next day, she was admitted to the hospital with cardiac arrest, a condition in which the heart goes haywire and can no longer pump blood. Six days later, she was dead. This incident has brought international attention to the potential health risks of energy drinks. Future incidences may be avoided if, rather than relying on energy drinks to address the tiredness and fatigue associated with the inability to sleep, healthy alternatives are employed to encourage a healthy sleep pattern.
What Are Energy Drinks?
Adults have long relied on coffee to provide a quick burst of energy in the morning or when working extended shifts. However, until recently, teenage caffeine use was largely limited to that contained in soft drinks such as Coke and Mountain Dew. That changed in the early 2000s, when beverages like Red Bull and Monster Energy Drink were marketed heavily in the United States. Today, 70 million energy drinks are consumed in the US every day, most of them by people 16 to 35 years old. Total sales are almost $9 billion a year.
Energy drinks are advertised at sporting events, online, and on radio and TV ads. The largest single seller is the line of Monster Energy drinks, which is distributed by Coca-Cola Corporation. It’s estimated that one in three teenagers and young adults consume one to two energy drinks daily.
The single most innate ingredient found in energy drinks is caffeine, sometimes as much as three times the amount found in a cup of coffee. In fact, coffee serves as the base for beverages sold under the Monster Energy Drink label.
Sugar is also usually included in amounts much higher than regular soft drinks. Added to the usual mix is guarana – a South American ingredient which is a natural source of caffeine, taurine – an amino acid that affects heart rate, ginseng – long believed to enhance energy and alertness, and gingko biloba – an herb believed to have similar effects as ginseng. High levels of sodium are also usually present.
Caffeine has serious health risks when consumed in large quantities. Heart palpitations, tremors, nervousness, anxiety, and undesired inability to sleep are commonly reported in subjects who overindulge in the stimulant. In addition, it has a powerful diuretic effect forcing the kidneys to expel water from the body and often leading to dehydration.
Ingestion of too much caffeine often leads to caffeine poisoning, a condition marked by nausea, heart disturbances, feelings of terror or extreme dread, and, in some cases, hallucinations. Every year, thousands of people suffering from these symptoms are admitted to emergency rooms across the country. The number has increased significantly since energy drinks became popular.
Caffeine has severe long-term effects as well. These can include heart disease, heartburn, ulcers, high blood pressure, and chronic insomnia. Pregnant women who ingest large amounts of caffeine suffer from increased rates of miscarriage, difficulty giving birth, and delivery of dangerously underweight babies.
As mentioned before, caffeine is a potent diuretic. In the amounts typically consumed by energy drink users, it can cause dehydration, a dangerous condition in which the body doesn’t have enough water on hand to function properly. In mild cases, it causes extreme thirst, sticky mouth, weakness, and fatigue. Severe dehydration effectsinclude dizziness, heart palpitations, vomiting, diarrhea, confusion, fainting, dry mouth, sunken eyes, extremely dry skin, unconsciousness, coma, and death. Athletes who consume energy drinks are at particular risk of suffering from the effects of dehydration.
Many people get dehydrated from consuming energy drinks and then try to relieve that problem by ingesting even more of them. This creates a vicious cycle in which more and more liquids are forced from the kidneys, eventually causing organ failure that leads to lifelong health problems and sometimes death.
The major energy drink brands all have large amounts of sugar, which causes cavities and other teeth-related issues. Dentists strongly recommend that the average American cut back on sugar consumption. Unfortunately, this is nearly impossible for those who consume energy beverages, as even a single can may contain 27 or more grams of sugar.
Obesity, Diabetes, and Heart Disease
Obesity can be linked directly to the inability to sleep well, and statistics show that one in four Americans are obese. The primary culprit in these alarming statistics is a poor diet heavy in junk foods, including energy drinks. Excessive sugar consumption has been linked to the explosion in the number of obese people in the United States, which has in turn led to a diabetes epidemic. Currently, one in 10 Americans have the disease, and this is expected to balloon to one in two by 2025. Those afflicted with it are at major risk for heart attacks, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, nerve deterioration, and a host of other problems. Obesity is not only associated with the diabetes epidemic, but it is also a contributing factor for other health problems as well.
Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans. 80 million Americans suffer from it, and every year, over 1 million of them die from its effects. Over 900,000 will suffer heart attacks during 2012, and 250,000 will perish, without warning, from a condition known as Sudden Cardiac Death. Sugar-related obesity is a major cause of heart disease, and the sweetener is found in huge amounts in energy drinks.
Crime and Risk-Taking Behavior
Energy drinks are often part of a lifestyle that involves numerous unhealthy practices, including smoking, consuming fast food, avoiding nutritious meals, going extended periods of time without enough sleep, and taking part in dangerous activities. Marketing campaigns for many energy beverages are believed to contribute to these hazardous personal choices, by encouraging a fast-paced lifestyle that takes no thought for the consequences of actions.
One particularly dangerous use for energy drinks is to counteract the effects of alcohol. This has become increasingly popular among teenagers and college students in recent years, as it allows one to experience the relaxing effects of alcohol while feeling fully alert and energetic at the same time. However, this practice takes a huge toll on the body and can quickly turn deadly.
A 2011 paper published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research showed that energy drinks remove the natural warning sign of having had too much to drink – fatigue. “The disconnect between the ‘what you feel’ and ‘how you act’ is the problem here”, said Dr. Cecile Marczinski, author of the study. While those who use energy drinks along with alcohol feel perfectly alert and in control, the parts of the brains that govern judgment and impulse control are suppressed, as are speed and reflexes.
This combination causes these people to drive while intoxicated, have risky sexual behavior, break the law, engage in physical altercations, and continue to drink long after they should have called it a night. The latter action often results in death by alcohol poisoning, as the person is so intoxicated that their body can no longer function. Fatalities caused by choking on one’s own vomit have also been reported, as the normal gag reflex no longer functions.
The popularity of energy drinks is a symptom of a much deeper problem in modern society. Americans simply don’t take care of themselves like they should. In the days before electric lights and television, life followed a natural rhythm. Most work was confined to the daylight hours, with late afternoons set aside for dinner, early evenings for relaxation and family time, and night for rest. By contrast, the world of the 21st century runs 24 hours a day, with TV, video games, and the Internet offering endless temptations. At the same time, wage stagnation is forcing people to work longer and harder than ever before. It’s not unusual for people to hold down two or three jobs and still try to maintain a busy social life.
The result is a nation filled with millions of people who live in a perpetual state of sleep deprivation, using caffeine and other stimulants to keep going from one moment to the next. All of this has caused a host of problems from criminal behavior to trillions of dollars in health care costs for lifestyle-related conditions.
For those who want to avoid or treat the kinds of problems caused by the low sleep/high caffeine/high stress lifestyle, here are some helpful tips:
• Begin by taking a few days to de-stress your body and your mind. Try meditating, listening to soothing music, reconnecting with your spiritual beliefs, or engaging in some other natural, drug-free form of relaxation.
• While you’re at it, begin a regular exercise program if you haven’t already. Wean yourself off of energy drinks, sugary sodas, and junk food, replacing them with nutritious options. Taper off your caffeine consumption, but do so gradually to avoid a sudden crash, which can cause depression.
• Set a regular bedtime and stick to it as closely as possible. Get at least seven hours of sleep a night, but get more if you can. Most people function best with eight to nine hours of slumber per day. If you work at night, keep your sleeping room as dark and as quiet as possible.
• Simplify your life by taking a personal inventory. Decide on one or two major goals you wish to accomplish and focus most of your energy and efforts on those, letting less important things take less priority. Reducing your use of credit and your attachment to material possessions can help as well. Avoid impulse spending on frivolous things; instead, focus on buying products of high quality that will give lasting value over many years.
It’s a Third of Your Life. Spend It Right.
While we don’t think about it very often, one hour of every three is spent snoozing. The fact is, there is simply no substitute for sleep. Getting enough of it is critical to being a happy, healthy, productive person.
One thing that can foster the inability to sleep is a poor sleep environment. Itchy blankets or sheets, hot or unsupportive pillows, and uncomfortable mattresses can turn what should be a blissful night of rest into a nightmare of tossing and turning. The results often include dragging through the next day, being unproductive at work, acting grouchy with friends and family, and lacking the energy to enjoy fun recreational activities.
Parklane Mattresses can help. All of our sleep products are made from top-quality components and are engineered to help you rest well and triumph over your inability to sleep. We have mattresses in every price range, made from a wide variety of materials, and designed to cradle your body in soft but supportive comfort. We also have pillows, sheets, duvets and other products, all of which can enhance your rest, making your waking hours as rich and fulfilling as possible. So go ahead, browse our online selections, and then place your order using our secure online form. Our mission is to turn your dreams of quality sleep into reality.