Caffeine is omnipresent at Kenyon. In my morning Japanese class, it’s difficult to ignore the colorful assortment of energy drinks that I encounter on a daily basis — a Monster Energy Mango Loco, Starbucks Doubleshot Espressos and a variety of Red Bull flavors. Kenyon’s website even claims that Wiggin Street Coffee is a place where “community is as vital as caffeine.” However, our enthusiasm around caffeine raises serious concerns about our fixation on productivity even at the expense of healthy living and mindfulness.
For many Kenyon students like myself, and college students nationwide, being caffeinated has simply become the baseline state of human condition. According to the National Library of Medicine, 92% of college students drink coffee, and 79% said that they use caffeine to stay awake. Although it is the most widely used psychoactive substance in the world, few of us think of it as a drug, much less of it as an addiction — although perhaps we should think of it that way.
Heading into the new year, I swore to myself that I would wrest myself from the chokehold that various forms of caffeine held on me, especially during the peak of finals week. Ditching my routine of a morning chai latte (supplemented with intervals of green tea as needed) and the occasional Yerba Maté, I quit caffeine — cold turkey.
I experienced the predictable range of caffeine withdrawal symptoms in accordance with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (yes, caffeine withdrawal is a diagnosable disorder in the DSM-5). I could not have expected a worse onslaught — I was hit with headaches, low energy, difficulty concentrating, fatigue and flu-like symptoms. For many at Kenyon, which takes pride in its reputation as the “writer’s college,” that seemingly unimportant diagnosis of “difficulty focusing” actually conceals an existential threat to the writer’s creative output. How can you write if you can’t focus?
Although caffeine holds certain obvious advantages, its widespread use in the workplace and on college campuses must be closely examined. It is extraordinarily alarming how casually people mention that they are on their third cup of coffee or that they have a terrible headache because they haven’t had their first one yet. While occasionally relying on caffeine for energy is perfectly reasonable, our constant reliance on it raises some questions. Why have we promoted and accepted an environment where we need to supplement our baseline level of energy?
This broad reliance indicates that professionals and students are frequently required to perform in ways that require more energy than they ordinarily possess. Caffeine is an invisible addiction. Drinking caffeine to substitute inadequate sleep is dangerous since it cheats our bodies out of the recuperation and time off it requires to be productive.
We resort to our morning coffee because relying solely on the energy we get from eating and resting is not sufficient. You may be personally familiar with the harsh cycle that caffeine and sleep deprivation perpetuate, only inevitably leading to the consumption of even more caffeine. Turning to coffee to get through the day when we don’t get enough sleep sounds like a sensible strategy. But excessive caffeine usage suggests that we frequently receive insufficient sleep.
As students, we must work towards holding our need for sleep to a higher standard. We don’t seek replacements or supplements for food and water — these biological needs are non-negotiables. Why should we treat sleep any differently?
It’s challenging and probably even unfair to advise people to cut back on their caffeine intake and just “get more sleep.” Culturally, it seems that we’ve accepted sleep deprivation as a natural part of adult life, but it’s important to reframe the conversation around coffee and caffeine consumption. Caffeine culture is a byproduct of the capitalist culture of hyper-productivity we find ourselves in and it only serves to uphold the idea that work should be everyone’s primary focus. It is time for us to have more serious conversations about the societal structures that reinforce our dependence on caffeine.
To my peers: We can collectively appreciate caffeine as an energizing tool when necessary, but it is our duty to be conscious and moderate consumers of caffeine — take care of yourselves.
Dylan Sibbitt ’26 is a columnist for the Collegian. He is a political science major from San Francisco, Calif. He can be reached at email@example.com.