By: Kristine Enemuo
Your parents have probably told you not to drink soda at night because the caffeine will keep you awake. You also probably know someone who can never go a day without their cup of coffee. One thing that coffee and soda have in common is that they contain caffeine! But what exactly is caffeine and what does it do to our bodies?
Caffeine is a natural chemical that can be found in chocolate, coffee, tea, and soda. It is known as a stimulant because it makes our bodies more active and awake.
Our brains produce a chemical called adenosine (uh·deh·nuh·seen). When adenosine attaches to our brain cells, it tells our bodies to relax and makes us want to sleep. To our brain cells, caffeine looks just like adenosine. Once caffeine enters our body and into the brain, it is able to fit into the same cells that adenosine usually binds to. In other words, caffeine blocks adenosine from attaching to our brain cells. Since adenosine can no longer bind to our cells, we feel less tired and more alert for a few hours!
When caffeine binds to our brain cells, our brains are told to produce more of a chemical called dopamine (dow·puh·meen), which gives us a jolt of pleasure and happiness! So when we drink soda (or any drink with caffeine in it), our brains produce more dopamine, which makes us feel good and want to drink it again. That is why caffeine can be so addicting.
Like anything, too much caffeine isn’t very good! Because it blocks adenosine from binding to our brain cells, it makes it more difficult for us to fall asleep. Even if you do manage to fall asleep, you won’t be able to get the deep, restful sleep that you need. Because of that, you may wake up the next morning tired and cranky, and once again, you will need more caffeine to keep you awake. Doing this for a long time can cause a dangerous cycle of not getting enough sleep!
Caffeine isn’t only bad for you. There are some benefits to consuming caffeine! It can treat severe headaches and prevent people from developing deadly diseases like liver cancer and diabetes. Recent studies have shown that caffeine makes people less likely to develop Parkinson’s Disease – a disease where people lose control over their muscles.
Given both the good and the bad effects of consuming caffeine, it’s always good to consume caffeine in just the right amounts!