“Natural” energy drinks provide unnatural energy

Health Canada is changing the classification of energy drinks from a “Natural Health Product” to a food product

Health Canada is changing the classification of energy drinks from a “Natural Health Product” to a food product, according to a press release from Canada Newswire.

Unlike many university students, I did not drink coffee (and I still don’t) to help me get through the day. However, like many students, I drank a few energy drinks to help me stay up late while working on a major paper.

I vividly remember my first (and only) all-nighter of university. I was in my second year, and it was the last week of spring semester. It had been a stressful time, with a major assignment due every week. I managed to get everything in on time as the last day rolled around. Finally, I was left with one assignment — an eight-page Canadian identity paper for my history class.

I hadn’t intentionally set about to leave the entire paper, save for checking out the books I needed, until the last night. With all the other assignments due before it, that’s exactly what ended up happening. As it turned out, that same night was also a friend’s birthday, and the evening of my residence’s year-end dinner. Despite the mountain of work that lay ahead of me, I decided to attend both events.

At 11 p.m. I sat down to start my paper. I stationed myself in the study lounge (to minimize distractions) and arranged my books around my laptop (to appear studious and avoid interruptions). I opened up a word document, wrote the title and my name at the top, and stared at the blank page.

I didn’t know where to begin. My chosen topic was Britain’s legacy in Canada, selected solely for the number of books I was able to find on the topic. I had armed myself with a vast array of scholarly literature. One book featured a cracked teacup on its cover. I felt like I was that teacup, about to crack from stress. The Queen looked sternly at me from another cover. I flipped the book over.

I settled down and began laboriously typing out each letter. Words formed, then sentences. What was I writing about? I really didn’t know. I hoped it made sense.

After a few hours, I started nodding off mid-word. I re-read my last paragraph. It was filled with spelling errors and was missing several words. I needed to stay awake. A classmate was sitting across from me, working on the very same paper and drinking an energy drink. That’s what I need, I thought.

The drink, purchased from a vending machine, was shockingly sweet. I set it next to my fortress of books, and hoped this would help me finish my paper.

I started feeling jittery in about half an hour. It was difficult to sit still in my seat. My fingers trembled as I tried to type, but at least I didn’t feel tired anymore. I powered through the next couple hours of work, fuelled by the caffeine and huge amounts of sugar the drink contained. Though I had energy, it was a certain kind of energy. It didn’t feel like I was really energized. It felt fake, like I was cheating sleep.

By 7 a.m., I had written six pages. I had class at 9 a.m., so I packed up my computer, books, and empty drink can and headed down to my room to shower. I felt slightly dazed. There was something surreal about taking my morning shower without having first woken up in my bed.

While in class, I suddenly felt exhausted. I knew I was crashing as the drink wore off, and therein lay the fundamental problem with energy drinks. While it had given me a false sense of energy to work on my paper, it inevitably left me feeling as I naturally should have after not sleeping for a night. There really is no substitute for a good night’s sleep.

In my opinion, energy drinks are no different from pop, except for their elevated caffeine content. They are neither natural nor healthy, and should not refer to themselves as such.

As for the paper, I ended up finishing it on time. I learned my lesson, and for the rest of my time in university, I learned not to leave anything to the last minute, and to take it easy with caffeine.

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