RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
The latest caffeine product takes a new form. It's a stamp-sized gel sheet that dissolves in your mouth like a breath freshener. Reporter Murray Carpenter has more.
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MURRAY CARPENTER: This promotional video shows NBA star LeBron James, in black and white, placing a bright red gel strip on his tongue. James is not just endorsing the product. He's a co-founder of the company. Warren Struhl, another partner, says Sheets has some advantages.
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MONTAGNE: You don't have calories. You don't have to make a pit stop. And it's great-tasting. So we created a delivery system, as we say a Listerine strip meets an energy product. Our product can be a replacement for an energy drink, an energy shot, or even a cup of coffee.
D: I find it very surprising to see how many different varieties of caffeine-containing products have been invented and marketed.
CARPENTER: Harris Lieberman is a psychologist with the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. He says the Army has developed its own energy product - caffeinated gum. It's now included in some rations because caffeine helps sleep-deprived soldiers maintain vigilance. And several energy drink bottlers are now marketing energy gum to the general public. Lieberman says caffeine's popularity reflects our modern lifestyle.
D: It's a combination of driving ourselves and having high expectations of ourselves, but also of society making a lot of demands on us, so they kind of add up to give us insufficient time to sleep.
CARPENTER: We devalue sleep as a society. It's very clear. And that's been clear to sleep researchers for a long time.
CARPENTER: Psychology professor Amy Wolfson of Holy Cross College says teens are often especially sleep-deprived. But instead of getting the sleep they need, she says many turn to caffeine.
CARPENTER: And you wonder a little bit whether the marketers, whether purposefully or not, realize that we know that we have a sleepy population - beginning really in 7th grade, if not possibly earlier - and that they're going to use these products in order to be more alert, be more attentive.
CARPENTER: Scott Killgore is a psychologist with McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. He says since we consume caffeine in foods all the time, we don't really take it seriously when it comes to our kids.
D: This is a real and powerful drug. So it can actually affect your sleep, it can affect your mood; a lot of other cognitive and psychological factors. So you need to be aware of what kinds of drugs your kids are ingesting, and caffeine is one of them.
CARPENTER: Killgore says caffeine may affect young people differently than adults.
D: We really don't know the effects that caffeine has on the body, and even psychologically, for kids. You know, there's a lot of research in adults, but relatively speaking, it's fairly restricted with kids so far.
CARPENTER: Just down the hill from Killgore's office, David Bourret is rollerblading with his friends in the park.
MONTAGNE: I drink a lot of Red Bulls and I drink a lot of Rockstars. But I see these new - they got gum out now, but I haven't tried the gum out yet.
CARPENTER: Bourret, who is 25, says he uses energy drinks to help him wake up, and to get motivated for workouts. He also likes the flavor. But he says they aren't for everyone.
MONTAGNE: Sometimes I drink them and I'm all totally wired up. So I definitely think there should be an age limit because if you drink too many of them, you're going to be off the wall.
CARPENTER: For NPR News, I'm Murray Carpenter.
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