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Caffeine Confusion

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 cola 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, hot cocoa, soda, chocolate, and some medicines.

When humans drink or eat caffeine, it acts as a stimulant (say: stim-yuh-lunt). Stimulants may make us feel more awake and alert. Many people drink liquids 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 regular daily dose, look out! People who are used to caffeine and don't get it can develop headaches, stomachaches, and feel sleepy or grumpy all day long.

What Does Caffeine Do to Your Body?

Caffeine can cause your heart to pump faster and your breathing to quicken. You also may notice that caffeine makes you feel hyper. Caffeine can boost a person's energy temporarily, but a lot of caffeine can also cause other, not-so-great effects:

If you drink too much caffeine at one time, it can make you feel nervous or jumpy. Your hands may shake.

Too much caffeine will make it hard to fall asleep, which might mean you won't be able to pay attention in school the next day.

And too much caffeine can give you a stomachache, headache, or a racing heartbeat. In fact, kids with heart problems should not drink caffeine because it's known to affect heart rates and force the heart to work harder.

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