Caffeine is hard to avoid. It’s in coffee, tea, soft drinks, and chocolate. One estimate of global consumption tallies it at 120,000 tonnes per year, or about one caffeinated beverage per person per day. Caffeine is a mild stimulant, helping to restore alertness and reduce fatigue. And while overconsumption can have some pretty bad effects (starting with the jitters and moving on to mania, depression, and hallucinations), daily consumption of small amounts can be of real help. It’s no wonder that so many of us have become addicted to the stuff.
And that addiction is real. If you’re dependent on the stuff, you’ll feel the effects of not consuming caffeine pretty quickly–headaches, sleepiness, fatigue, irritability, cloudiness of your thoughts, even depression. That addiction, however, doesn’t mean that you’re immune to caffeine’s ability to keep you awake at night if the levels in your blood are too high when you try to sleep.
But a new iOS app from researchers at Penn State University promises to help the caffeine addict manage their consumption. Caffeine Zone 2 (available in a free version with ads) lets you record your consumption of caffeinated products, calculates the amount of caffeine you’ve consumed, and plots out the level of caffeine in your blood over time. Drink a cup of coffee too late in the day and you’ll quickly see that trying to go to sleep may be a problem.
And the user can adjust optimal caffeine levels in the app as they learn more about what works for them. The default settings are based on peer-reviewed research that shows that people are most alert when the caffeine levels reach 200 to 400 milligrams. The researchers took those results and set the app to alert you that trying to sleep when your blood levels are higher than 100 milligrams, but more sensitive people can change that if needed.
I can’t say whether this app will be useful for me (I’ve pretty much figured out that one cup of tea in the morning is enough to get me going but another in the afternoon will keep me up at night), but I can see that it might be good for someone who hasn’t yet determined their own patterns. Or if a person is consuming far too much caffeine in their day (I’m thinking of a former co-worker who drank cups and cup of coffee throughout his day), it might help to point out when their caffeine levels have reached toxic levels.