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Caffeine 101

With finals looming, many students will no doubt be searching for the perfect pick-me-up to fuel those all-night cram sessions. Nowadays the market is saturated with a plethora of potions sporting blazingly colorful labels and extreme names such as Rockstar and Full Throttle. Caffeine has managed to edge its way into everything from gum to soap, but is it really the best way to get a buzz?

How does it help?

The results of an Austrian study published in Men’s Health magazine suggest that drinking a cup of coffee may actually make you mentally sharper. The researchers gave 15 men either 100 milligrams of caffeine or a placebo and then measured their brain activity. The group that was given caffeine showed greater brain activity in the areas responsible for attention, sharpness and short-term memory. However, the effects only lasted for about 45 minutes.

How do I stay up all night?

A study conducted by sleep researcher James Wyatt suggests ingesting small shots of caffeine throughout the day. The reasoning behind this has to do with one of the body’s sleep mechanisms. Studies have shown that your body is accumulating a chemical known as adenosine throughout the day. Caffeine effectively blocks adenosine from collecting and thus keeps you from getting tired.

But what should I use?

If you want a quick burst of energy in a low dose form, caffeine gum is your ticket. According to DCmilitary.com, the U.S. military recently approved “Stay Alert” gum to combat fatigue. Each piece contains 100 milligrams of caffeine, roughly the equivalent of a 6-ounce cup of coffee. If you’re not in the military, you can pick up a pack of Jolt gum. Each piece contains about 45 milligrams of caffeine. Another one of the gum’s perks is that it is absorbed five to 10 times faster than any other source of caffeine.

Is there another way?

Of course. Gum is not the only way to catch a buzz, and neither is coffee. There are plenty of alternatives for those opposed to a good old cup of Joe. A cup of black tea, for example, contains anywhere from 40 to 100 milligrams of caffeine. Mate, a tea native to South America and most popular in Argentina, yields about 30 milligrams per 8-ounce serving. Some smoothies are infused with guarana, a natural source of caffeine that can yield up to 40 milligrams per serving. If you’re looking for something a little different, Buzz Bites are small pieces of chocolate with 100 milligrams of caffeine each. In an article in Men’s Health, director of the University of Pittsburg Medical Center’s music therapy program Andrea Scheve said, “To increase the perception of energy, listen to a piece of music that’s upbeat and familiar, and use that song to get you going.”

If you plan on cramming, it’s good to have a little boost in your corner. There are plenty of ways to get just the amount of caffeine you need. Just remember to keep it limited; studies have shown that although caffeine helps people stay alert, a better alternative is to just get enough sleep. But those who just can’t get enough caffeine can check out Thinkgeek.com/caffeine for oddities ranging from caffeinated skin lotion to caffeinated hot sauce.