New research on caffeine and the young brain shows how soda and energy drinks could hinder a child’s development.

Caffeine is readily available in everything from gum to energy drinks marketed to children and young adults. However, the long-term effects of caffeine, especially on young people, are still largely unknown.

We know caffeine can affect sleep, of course. Grownups often drink it because it can aid alertness. But when it affects children's sleep—which mounting evidence says is critical for brain development—it can really hold them back.

A new study in the journal PLOS ONE concerns caffeine consumption in pubescent lab rats. Researchers found that young rats who consumed the rat-sized equivalent of the caffeine in three or four cups of coffee daily experienced reduced deep sleep and delayed brain development.

Caffeine impacts development by disrupting the formation of key connections in the brain, said study author Dr. Reto Huber, a sleep expert at the University of Zurich, and others at the University of Zurich Children’s Hospital. During adolescence, your brain has the most neural connections it will ever have during your lifetime.

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