Your mom says not to drink soda at night because the caffeine will keep you awake. And she says she "needs her caffeine" in the morning when she's reaching for her cup of coffee. So what is caffeine, anyway?

Caffeine Is a Common Chemical

Caffeine (say: KA-feen) is a natural chemical found in tea leaves, coffee beans, cacao (the stuff used to make chocolate), and kola nuts (the plant that gives cola soda its flavor). Caffeine has been in foods that humans eat and drink for hundreds of years. Today, caffeine is found in many common foods and drinks, such as coffee, tea, energy drinks, hot cocoa, soda, chocolate, and some medicines.

Caffeine is a stimulant (say: STIM-yuh-lunt). Stimulants make us feel more awake and alert. Many people have drinks with caffeine because they think it helps them to wake up and feel sharper. But no one needs caffeinated (say: KA-fuh-nay-ted) drinks, especially kids. The best drinks for kids are water and milk, which don't contain caffeine.

People who drink caffeine every day may start to depend on it. If regular caffeine users don't get their daily dose, look out! People who are used to caffeine and don't get it can have headaches or trouble focusing, and feel tired or grumpy all day long.

What Does Caffeine Do to Your Body?

Caffeine can make you feel hyper. Caffeine may boost a person's energy, but a lot of caffeine can also cause other, not-so-great effects. Too much caffeine can:

  • make you feel nervous or jumpy. Your hands may shake.
  • make it hard to fall asleep, which might mean you won't be able to pay attention in school the next day
  • give you a stomachache, headache, or racing heartbeats. In fact, kids with heart problems should not drink caffeine.

Do You Need Caffeine?

Caffeine isn't a nutrient, like calcium, so you don't need it. Kids under 12 should probably skip the caffeine altogether. Teens should not get more than about 100 mg (about 1 cup of coffee) a day.

Here's how much caffeine is in common foods and drinks.

Caffeine Chart
Drink/FoodAmount of Drink/FoodAmount of Caffeine
Mountain Dew 12 ounces 55 mg
Coca-Cola 12 ounces 54 mg
Diet Coke 12 ounces 45 mg
Pepsi 12 ounces 38 mg
7-Up 12 ounces 0 mg
Red Bull Energy Drink 8.3 ounces 80 mg
Brewed coffee (drip method) 5 ounces 115 mg*
Iced tea 12 ounces 70 mg*
Dark chocolate 1 ounce 20 mg*
Milk chocolate 1 ounce 6 mg*
Cocoa beverage 5 ounces 4 mg*
Chocolate milk beverage 8 ounces 5 mg*
Cold relief medication 1 tablet 30 mg*

*This is an average amount of caffeine. That means some of these products may contain a little more caffeine; some may contain a little less.
Sources: U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and National Soft Drink Association

Cutting the Caffeine

If you'd like to cut down on caffeine, talk with your parents. They can help you understand how much you're getting and help you cut down.

Check the ingredient list on the label and choose caffeine-free or decaf drinks. If you don't, you might find yourself tossing and turning instead of snoozing and snoring!

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2020 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.

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