Although the current recommendation for teen caffeine intake is 100 milligrams or less per day -- the equivalent of a cup of coffee -- as many as half of all teens drink one or more energy drinks each day, for an intake of 160 milligrams or more, according to MedlinePlus. In addition to energy drinks, teens might drink regular coffee or tea, or consume caffeine through over-the-counter medications, candy or even gum. Excess caffeine can have unpleasant side effects.
Teens tend to use caffeine to wake up, stay awake or specifically for the stimulant effect, according to Medline Plus. Many energy drinks contain not only caffeine but sugar and other substances such as ginseng and guarana, which can enhance the effect of the caffeine. Some energy drinks contain as much as 500 milligrams of caffeine, according to a February 2013 article in the “Times Union.” Energy drinks are often consumed cold, which makes it easier to drink them quickly, in comparison to a cup of hot coffee.
Caffeine and Sleep
Little research has been done on the effects of caffeine use in teenagers, according to a June 2009 article in the journal “Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews.” The article notes research indicates caffeine is generally safe for adults, but adolescents are still growing and developing. One major issue is brain development, which requires proper sleep and nutrition. Caffeine can disrupt sleep patterns -- a problem in teens because many are already sleep-deprived because of changes in their internal body clocks, school start times and crowded schedules, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Other concerns about teen caffeine consumption are related to diet, obesity and dental cavities. Teens get most of their caffeine from soft drinks and energy drinks, which often contain sugar, according to KidsHealth. “Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews” reports that teens who drink a lot of soda tend to have poor diets. The article adds that caffeine might enhance the preference for sweet foods and beverages during a period when eating patterns and taste preferences are being established, which increases the risk of obesity. The biggest concern, however, is that teen brains might be particularly vulnerable to caffeine’s ability to increase the brain’s response to illegal drugs.
Teens might differ in their sensitivity to caffeine, according to KidsHealth. Even relatively small doses of caffeine in a caffeine-sensitive individual can cause anxiety, dizziness, headaches and jitters. A smaller person is more likely to have increased caffeine sensitivity. Chronic consumption tends to build caffeine tolerance, which leads to increased consumption to obtain the same effect, and a teen who tries to stop suddenly might feel fatigued or develop a headache. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, teens should never drink energy drinks and should avoid sodas that contain caffeine.