Monday, April 24, 2017
Last updated: 2 years ago

Apples or caffeine? The great Ubyssey energy experiment

Illustration Indiana Joel / The Ubyssey

Illustration Indiana Joel / The Ubyssey

It’s 11 p.m., and you’ve just opened up your textbook. Your final is tomorrow and you haven’t studied once all semester. You have a choice to make. It’s not whether you should cram — that’s already a given — but rather, what stimulant you should use to stay up.

The default option is, of course, caffeine, typically in the form of coffee or tea. However, some sources suggest that apples are an effective energy source — potentially more so than caffeine. But could it really be true? If you’re planning an all-nighter or cramming for a final, should you reach for the caffeine, or the fruit?

For the betterment of night owls everywhere, The Ubyssey recently commissioned two of our fine writers, Alexis Wolfe and Victoria Lansdown, to find out the truth through an informal experiment.

On the first night of the experiment, our volunteers attempted to stay up as late as possible without imbibing any sort of stimulant. Then, they waited a few days, and stayed up again — this time, drinking a standard Monster Energy drink at the time they would normally go to bed. Lastly, after several more days, instead of going to bed at the regular time, our volunteers ate an apple. We asked both writers to reflect upon their experience each night, and the experiment as a whole. The results may surprise you.

Editor’s Note: This was not a scientific experiment. The data listed below is almost entirely anecdotal, and should be read for entertainment purposes only.

Night 1 (nothing)

Illustration Indiana Joel / The Ubyssey

Illustration Indiana Joel / The Ubyssey

Alexis

I was a functioning insomniac for most of high school, so I figured staying up one night would hardly phase me. I soon realized the significant difference between being awake by and against your own will. At around 2:30 a.m., I felt the first wave of drowsiness. Without caffeine or any other substance in my system, it was simply Tumblr and Daily Show reruns keeping me awake.

It wasn’t a struggle to keep myself awake until 4 a.m. rolled around. At this point, the idea of sleep became particularly seductive. With no real panic of an overdue paper or midterm to study for, there simply wasn’t enough demand to keep me awake. Knowing this, I was asleep by 5:30 a.m. With three hours of sleep, I feel exceptionally well rested. I don’t know why I do — however, I will not question it. I am beginning to wonder whether or not regular sleep patterns are just a social construct to keep one from habitually watching a different television series in its entirety each week.

Victoria

On the first night, I studied for my psychology midterm the next Friday, and learned about adolescent development. Even though the material was interesting and relatable, reading is not the best way to stay awake. Actually, trying to stay up wasn’t that difficult, because I was also hungry, and the hunger kept me awake. However, trying to focus when I was exhausted without any extra source of energy was hardly possible. I eventually gave up studying around midnight and watched a television show until 1 a.m., when I fell asleep after forcing myself to make it to the hour.

Night 2 (Monster Energy)

Alexis

It’s 10 a.m., and I haven’t slept for what I will attribute to a placebo effect. As instructed, I consumed a Monster energy drink at 11 p.m. last night, then waited to see how far it would take me. I’m convinced caffeine has no effect on my wakefulness after working at Starbucks, where I required six shots of espresso poured into a cup of dark roast coffee to keep me conscious. Despite this, I managed to stay awake for the entire night, this time with a task at hand. With two papers due today, I figured their completion would fit quite well into this experiment.

Culture Writer

The night started with good intentions, but inevitably ended in a haze of distractions. I believe one can pass any amount of time aimlessly browsing the Internet while they put off an assignment. But the moment you realize you’re browsing simply for the sake of browsing, all those random articles, conversations and videos quickly lose their lustre. That’s what happened. I was watching videos of live ABBA performances by 3 a.m., and at 5 a.m. I was fully committed to “Watch Nicki Minaj transform into reptilian – ILLUMINATI conspiracy!” It’s quite possible that the Monster kept me up until 3 a.m., but the all-nighter was successful purely due to self-indulgent procrastination and determination.

Victoria

Surprisingly, on night two, I was ready to stay up for hours and finish my creative writing assignment due in a few days, but I passed out after an hour, at midnight. Maybe it was my addiction to caffeine and the fact that I drank two cups of coffee earlier that day, but the Monster made me so tired I had to sleep.

Victoria

I drank the can at 11 p.m. and it gave me a burst of energy, but I must have used it up faster than it took my body to produce more. I was in the middle of writing my creative writing assignment short story when my eyes started getting really heavy. At about 11:45, I gave up trying to concentrate and watched television for about 10 minutes until I decided I had to sleep, so I went to bed at midnight.

Night 3 (an apple)

Alexis

The apple-equals-energy idea is a myth.

This time around, I only made it to 5 a.m. I understand that an apple sustains you with a food-like kind of energy, but it’s nothing compared to the God-given gift of caffeine. While trying to imagine the sugar and nutrients of the apple coming to life and turning the wheels in my brain, I couldn’t help but wish for a cup of coffee. As a night snacker, I’m sure I’ve accustomed my body to understand that eating is followed by sleep. Oftentimes I’m asleep before my head hits the pillow despite eating several “energy bars” minutes prior.

I had a paper to work on last night — however, it’s not due for a few days, so there was a severe lack of urgency at play. It’s important to realize that proper time management skills are fairly important, and in actuality, there is no reason to ever find yourself stuck pulling an all-nighter. After all, sleep trumps cramming.

Victoria

On the third night, March 26, I ate an apple at 11 p.m. and was able to stay up until 1:43 a.m. That’s the last time I remember seeing on the clock before passing out.

It was much easier to stay up on the third night, probably because I had less homework to do. I didn’t have to spend all of my energy on psychoanalyzing scholarly articles or reading my psychology textbook or doing anything creative, so I was able to stay up a lot longer. Also, I wasn’t hungry because I ate an apple — so I was full, and ready to focus on my television shows. I honestly think the amount of work you have to do has just as much of an impact on your attention and energy than a cup of coffee or an energy drink. The less homework I had, the more motivation I had to stay up. Also, I didn’t use all of my energy so quickly when I was just watching television, so I was able to stay up for a while.

Conclusion

Alexis

Ultimately, your level of determination and panic will decide how late you can stay up. I suggest eating throughout the night and drinking several cups of coffee and tea as if it was 2 in the afternoon, not the morning. If cramming for an exam or working on an assignment is important enough to you, you will physically will yourself into staying up until it’s complete. Or you could just avoid this dilemma altogether by practicing efficient time management.

Victoria

I can safely say the apple made the biggest difference. I have had a few days here and there when caffeine didn’t do the trick, but it’s never made me actually fall asleep. I believe that my anticipation of the Monster working so well caused me to use all of my energy in one hour, so I had none left by midnight. So, to all the UBC students reading this: buy some apples instead of coffee or Monster and get ready to ace that next test.

  • JC

    This is pretty lame for a cover story. The title “Studying Under the Influence,” gave me the impression this article would explore the use of adderall and other amphetamines by students around finals, which is an important and overlooked aspect of student culture at UBC. Instead this article reads like a boring dare between two pre-teen girls on a slumber party trying to see who can stay awake the longest. Definitely a wasted opportunity to explore something interesting and informative to the student body. Shame.