Slow Down the Energy Drinks, Soldier

Energy drinks negatively impact sleeping patterns

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) It may seem reasonable to regularly swig a Red Bull if you're deployed in a war zone. You would expect them to help you stay alert. But drinking too many energy drinks may backfire.

A recent report found that soldiers who drink a lot of energy drinks have more trouble sleeping. They tend to get less sleep each night. These soldiers were also more likely to fall asleep during briefings.

This research indicates soldiers are not getting enough sleep to meet their body's needs.

"Limit energy drink consumption."

The report, led by Robin L. Toblin, PhD, a clinical psychologist for the US Army's Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, used data gathered from the Joint Mental Health Advisory Team's survey among soldiers involved in the operations in Afghanistan in 2010.

Of 988 soldiers from deployed Army and Marine combat platoons surveyed, 45 percent reported drinking at least one energy drink daily, and 14 percent said they have three or more per day.

The survey asked the soldiers how many hours of sleep they get each night, their disruptions or concerns related to sleep and any problems they had with work related to being sleepy. The report showed that 24 percent of the soldiers said they got four hours or less of sleep each night, and 50 percent said they got five hours of sleep or less each night.

The researchers compared the soldiers' responses about sleep to their energy drink consumption based on whether they consumed no energy drinks, one to two a day or three or more a day.

Past research showed increased cognitive performance in soldiers who have 200 mg of caffeine, which is equal to about one or two energy drinks.

Those who drank three or more energy drinks daily were much more likely to sleep an average of only four hours or less each night compared to those who only had two or fewer energy drinks a day.

Sleeping four hours or less each night was reported among 18 percent of those having one or two drinks per day and 24 percent of those not having energy drinks at all.

But over a third – 38 percent – of those who drank three or more energy drinks daily got four hours of sleep or less each night.

Those who consumed three or more energy drinks daily were also more likely to report trouble sleeping or waking up in the night for more than half the nights of the past month because of combat stress, stress in their personal lives or illness.

They were also more likely to fall asleep during guard duty or briefings but not while riding in convoys. The researchers did not find any links between energy drink consumption and having an accident or making a mistake as a result of sleepiness.

There also were no differences in sleeping medication usage related to the number of energy drinks the soldiers had.

"Service members should be educated regarding the potential adverse effects of excessive energy drink consumption on sleep and mission performance and should be encouraged to moderate their energy drink consumption in combat environments," the authors wrote.

The majority of these soldiers were on their first deployment (61 percent) and had been in the military for fewer than five years (81 percent). Just over half were single (55 percent) and most were not parents (71 percent).

The number of energy drinks a soldier had each day did not appear related to his or her rank, number of deployments, branch of service, age, marital status or being a parent.

Of course, it's not just soldiers who need to be aware of the possible drawbacks of drinking too many energy drinks, said William Kohler, MD, the director of the Florida Sleep Institute in Spring Hill, Florida.

"I think we need to point out that the public as well as the military need to be aware of the potential downside of taking certain substances like caffeine," Dr. Kohler said. "Caffeine may have a temporary benefit of increasing alertness, but there is a significant downside to it with the complications that may occur if it's taken too close to sleep or too high in quantity."

He said taking this risk into consideration is important for anyone who consumes large amounts of caffeine. "The downside may outweigh the benefits, and the public certainly needs to be educated as to the potential adverse effects of substances' unintended consequences," Dr. Kohler said.

This report noted that energy drinks have one to three times as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, are often unregulated and can have negative side effects, such as overdose of caffeine, withdrawal and interacting dangerously with alcohol.

The report was published in the November 9 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 12, 2012
Last Updated:
November 18, 2012