Since Red Bull's introduction to the U.S. market in 1997, energy drinks have become common in many diets around the world.
In fact, one study in Europe revealed that as many as 30% of adults over 18 consume energy drinks regularly.1
Energy drinks owe their success in part to the ways in which they are marketed-- as a way to combat tiredness at work.
Advertisements for 5-Hour Energy claim it can combat the "2:30 feeling"--a euphemistic reference to the natural lull in circadian rhythms that often occurs mid to late afternoon.
How Much Caffeine Is Too Much?
Being tired at work is a common affliction. In one survey, over 90% of respondents said they had tried one or more methods to increase their energy levels while at work, and that caffeine is a necessity for their workdays.2
Although a dose of caffeine can temporarily improve cognitive performance and elevate mood in a tired person, energy drinks contain very large doses.
A 200 milligram dose of caffeine is often enough to cause caffeine intoxication, characterized by anxiety, insomnia, upset stomach, twitching, and restlessness. The Mayo Clinic considers 400 milligrams to be a safe limit for adults over the course of an entire day.4
Whereas a cup of coffee has about 80 milligrams of caffeine, some energy drinks have boasted caffeine contents as high as 500 milligrams.3
In addition to the extreme caffeine content, energy drinks contain other stimulants as well as large quantities of sugar or sweeteners.
Little is known about exactly how caffeine interacts with these other stimulants--such as guarana, taurine, and L-carnitine--and there is no evidence that energy drinks provide a greater physical or cognitive boost than caffeine alone.5
"The energy drink habit—continual intoxicating doses of caffeine and stimulants—has disrupted their bodies' ability to get recuperative sleep, so they become reliant on the habit as a poor substitute for rest."
Why do Energy Drinks Increase Tiredness and Fatigue?
What is known about energy drinks is that consuming them increases heart rate and arterial blood pressure because of the high caffeine dose.5
Excessive and regular consumption has been shown to disrupt sleep, causing drowsiness during the day,3 exacerbating the fatigue a person means to combat by drinking energy drinks in the first place.
A study of U.S. service members on a combat deployment to Afghanistan in 2010 revealed that nearly half of the surveyed service members consumed at least one energy drink in a day; almost 14% drank three or more.3
Considering that caffeine enhances diuresis, the regular or excessive consumption of energy drinks in an arid climate like Afghanistan's would significantly increase risk of dehydration, compounding fatigue and affecting alertness, performance, and general health.
In addition, the service members who consumed three or more energy drinks per day also reported obtaining an average of four fewer hours' sleep per night compared to those who drank zero to two per day.3
Similar to service members, many industry shift workers likely consume energy drinks to combat drowsiness or non-alertness while on the job.
Some argue that coffee is not enough; the caffeine in a cup or two of coffee doesn't get them to a productive state of wakefulness, so they use energy drinks.
But what could be happening instead is that the energy drink habit—continual intoxicating doses of caffeine and stimulants—has disrupted their bodies' ability to get recuperative sleep, so they become reliant on the habit as a poor substitute for rest.
What Safety Challenges do Energy Drinks Pose for Workplaces?
Given the strong correlation between energy drink consumption and increased fatigue, workplaces should strongly discourage excessive energy drink consumption, and offer alternative countermeasures for fatigue management.
Countermeasures to combat fatigue in the workplace--healthy snacks, hydrating drinks, short breaks, rest periods, and reasonable doses of caffeine like a cup of tea or coffee--may help energy drink consumers to temper their habit more healthily and at the same time improve safety at work in a subtle but important and effective way.
Other solutions like more intelligent shift scheduling and fatigue management systems can help reduce reliance on energy drinks for increased productivity and alertness.
Predictive Safety's PRISM and AlertMeter® technologies give workers and their employers the much needed visibility into fatigue and offers effective countermeasures to reduce fatigue safety risk. Sometimes, all it takes to prevent a fatal or costly accident is a simple countermeasure at the right time.
“We think the AlertMeter is the best bang for the buck of any of our safety practices. The feedback it gives to our employees motivates them to take responsibility for their off-time lifestyle behavior. They are definitely arriving more alert and more rested than they used to.”
Dickson Morley, SH&E Director Savage Services
"Our initial concern was two-fold: workers reporting without an adequate amount of sleep, as well as a defense against substance impairment. We found the AlertMeter® to satisfy both of our needs. An added benefit has been that since employees know that they will be tested daily, they are reporting to work in a better condition and ready to go to work."
Gary Ostermueller, General Manager: Prudential Stainless & Alloys
1. "Energy" drinks report. (2013, Mar. 6). European Food Safety Authority. Retrieved from https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/130306
2. More than sixty percent of U.S. workers admit to workplace mistakes due to tiredness. (2015, Jan. 13). PR Newswire. Retrieved from http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/more-than-sixty-percent-of-us-workers-admit-to-workplace-mistakes-due-to-tiredness-300019693.html
3. Toblin, R.L., Clarke-Walper, K., Kok, B.C., Sipos, M.L., & Thomas, J.L, (2012). Energy drink consumption and its association with sleep problems among U.S. service members on a combat deployment—Afghanistan, 2010. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) 61(44): 895–898. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6144a3.htm
4. Howard, J. (2017, Apr. 26). What that energy drink can do to your body. CNN. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/26/health/energy-drinks-health-concerns-explainer/
5. Alsunni, A.A. (2015). Energy drink consumption: Beneficial and adverse health effects. International Journal of Health Sciences 9(4): 468–474. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4682602