Caffeine and Sleep: Our friends or foes as medical students?

Caffeine is consumed by 90% of all adults in the world, yet is riddled with chemicals and pharmacological effects. Caffeine has been shown to relate to diseases ranging from cancer to psychiatric disorders. Medical students are among specific groups that consume a large amount of caffeine. The perception of the effects of caffeine were positive compared to the lack of correlation between academic performance and caffeine consumption. Consumption of caffeine and reduction in sleep is commonly used in medical students in order to cope with heavy workload and stress. There is a significant association between poor sleep quality and stress. Although there are studies that show that small levels of stress can have positive effects on physiological functioning, high levels of stress are shown to affect cognitive functioning negatively. Separately poor sleep quality and excessive caffeine consumption have negative effects on mental health. As May is Mental Health Awareness Month it’s important to acknowledge the stressors that medical students face in the modern world and possible ways to reduce stress. Academic workload along with impending career stressors are more clear stressors facing medical students. Although social environment stressors can rack havoc on a medical student’s already stressful schedule, studies show that these daily stressors can lead to burnout as early as the first year of medical school. However, there is evidence illustrating a positive correlation between self-care activities and the management of stress. Studies continue to show that time constraints and stigma prevent medical students from obtaining help for their mental health. Reducing the stigma surrounding mental health awareness and self-care can allow for students to feel more comfortable in seeking help. An intriguing finding in the sleep study is that students with one or more physicians in their family have higher prevalence of poor sleep quality. This possibly demonstrates that older generations of physicians are not effectively communicating their struggles with mental health and the need for self-care to the rising generation of physicians. If this trend continues, the stigma surrounding mental health will remain the same. 

As we are the future generation of physicians and the healthcare field, being able to manage our stressors without stigmatism should be a major goal. It is not only important to take care of our mind, but we must also fuel our bodies to take on the task of becoming physicians. Self-care includes obtaining enough sleep, balanced meals, and physical activity. Paired with decreasing the stressors associated with the medical field and its’ demands. The sharing of seasoned physicians own struggles related to mental health with rising medical students had measurable positive impacts on the medical student’s view of mental health. I believe as the next generation of physicians and the future of medicine; we owe it to the following generation to decrease the stigma surrounding mental health. While working towards decreasing our own harmful habits towards our mental health, such as decreasing caffeine consumption and obtaining higher quality sleep.

Abdullah I. Almojali, Sami A. Almalki, Ali S. Alothman, Emad M. Masuadi, Meshal K. Alaqeel,The prevalence and association of stress with sleep quality among medical students,Journal of Epidemiology and Global Health,Volume 7, Issue 3,2017,Pages 169-174,ISSN 2210-6006

Ayala, E.E., Winseman, J.S., Johnsen, R.D. et al. U.S. medical students who engage in self-care report less stress and higher quality of life. BMC Med Educ18, 189 (2018).

Bordeaux, Bryan, and Harris R. Lieberman. “Benefits and risks of caffeine and caffeinated beverages.” UpToDate. com(2016).

Martin A, Chilton J, Gothelf D, Amsalem D. Physician Self-disclosure of Lived Experience Improves Mental Health Attitudes Among Medical Students: A Randomized Study. Journal of Medical Education and Curricular Development. January 2020. doi:10.1177/2382120519889352

Monica R. Hill, Shelby Goicochea & Lisa J. Merlo (2018) In their own words: stressors facing medical students in the millennial generation, Medical Education Online, 23:1, DOI: 10.1080/10872981.2018.1530558

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