“Energy Drinks: Helpful or Hindering” is the fifty-first episode of The College Handoff. This episode features Dr. Mykin Higbee, a BYU alumna and a nursing professor at Utah Valley University that researches the effects of energy drink consumption in healthcare workers.
Mykin is a successful nurse, but she admits that her confidence in the hospital and classroom took time to develop. “I was a very unconfident nursing student. I passed out three times as a student…. And I remember one time being on the fourth floor of Utah Valley, and it was 5:30 in the morning, and an IV had fallen out of a patient, and so, of course, there’s blood… I turned around to go, I went down, hit the floor, hit the doorknob on my way down, and I woke up with my nursing instructor in my face. And he said to me, ‘Mykin, what did you eat for breakfast?’ And I said, ‘Kix!’ He said, ‘eat something more substantial next time,’” she says. “So my experience in the nursing program was I was a very nervous student and just worried. And I remember thinking that I just wanted to work same-day surgery, where people were healthy, but just needed something fixed. Turns out my capstone was in the ER. I think Heavenly Father had a plan for me because that gave me a lot of confidence. I was putting in lots of IVs. I saw a lot of scary things, a lot of hard things. It changed my whole perspective, and it really helped me to gain confidence and to see that this was going to be a great career for me and that I could do hard things.”
After working as an RN for several years, Mykin decided to get her master’s degree in nursing education from Utah Valley University and then her Ph.D. in nursing research from the University of Texas at Tyler. For her, the most worthwhile part of her graduate degrees is the exposure to research. “With my master’s degree, I learned the basics of nursing research. And I will tell you this: when I was a student at BYU, doing my undergrad and getting my BSN, I remember looking at my professors who had a Ph.D. and thinking, ‘I have no desire to do that. That is not something that’s interesting to me.’ I was only interested in clinical work. And yet as I’ve progressed and had so much background and clinical work, I enjoyed it so much, but I was ready for a change. That’s something that’s amazing about the nursing profession: if you get tired of something, if you want to switch directions, there are so many different paths you can take. That’s what happened to me, so I decided that I wanted to try something new. And I decided to get my Ph.D. so that I could teach, but the research part has actually become so fun for me and really enlightening. I’ve enjoyed the process much more than I thought I would.”
Mykin’s research emphasis on the effects of energy drinks on healthcare workers was inspired by observing her students and coworkers. “When I was at UVU, I was trying to decide what I should do for a project. And I taught a class for Gary Measom, who he actually used to teach at BYU. The professor when I fainted and his face was in my face? That was him,” she adds. “But I was teaching a class for him as a master student. It was an eight o’clock class in the morning and there were twenty students in the class. And in that class of twenty, there were five students who had an energy drink on their desk. I thought, ‘Huh! That’s kind of interesting.’”
She continues. “Then when I would go to work, then several of the nurses that I worked with, you know, there’d be a Monster over there or Rockstar. I was working a night shift in Dallas, and a travel nurse–I was giving a report to him–he popped open a Red Bull and I said, ‘what is that?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I drink one of these at one and one at four. This is what’s gonna keep me awake. You want to try some?’ And I said, ‘Sure!’ So he poured some in a little medicine cup for me, and I tried it. Red Bull is nasty. But that was my first exposure. And so I was always kind of intrigued by it, but especially with the Word of Wisdom and being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that’s something that I was interested in as well. And I’ll be honest with you: when I started my research about caffeine, I was very… I don’t know if the right word is anti, but I was raised in a family where we didn’t drink caffeinated sodas and that was terrible for you and you just don’t do that. And so my impression of caffeine and energy drinks and all those things was I’m going to find that this is terrible and horrible, and you should never do this. That’s what I just assumed,” Mykin admits. “As I started the research process and as I was learning, I came to realize that caffeine, in general, is a drug. And guess what? There is a time and a purpose for that. I personally don’t believe that you should wake up in the morning and crack an energy drink and be drinking that. But if you have to drive somewhere for twelve hours and you’ve got kids in the backseat, then maybe that’s a good time. If you’ve worked hard and you studied and you need extra help studying for a test, maybe that’s a good time. I just don’t think that it should be every day or all day long–I don’t agree with that. But every once in a while, just like when I get a headache, then I take aspirin or Advil or something like that, right? My belief system has changed a little bit.”
As Mykin began to seriously look into researching energy drinks, she found several reasons why her studies were necessary to the healthcare industry. “One of the things that kind of propelled me in this area is that there are some industries that have banned energy drinks, such as the oil rigs in the Gulf. There are several companies that have banned them. Also, some trucking companies that while at work, they’re not allowed to drink energy drinks. And it is for safety reasons. And so I think, well, healthcare is a huge area where there are safety concerns. So that was one of the areas that I wanted to look at to see if there were any issues. And quite honestly, when I started my study, there were no studies related to energy drinks and nurses. So my first study with my dissertation was mostly just to find out, you know, is there a problem? Is there a correlation?”
From her study, she was able to discover some concerning results. “We found out that about 25% of the nurses that I saw in my population (I did my study in Dallas) reported consuming energy drinks. I actually think it’s more than that, but that was my sample. But of that 25%, they report fewer sleep hours, poor sleep quality, and increased levels of perceived stress compared to caffeine-only consumers, whether it’s coffee or soda, or non-caffeine consumers. So I think that’s really interesting. In nursing, we work long hours. There’s a lot on your plate… And stress and sleep play a big factor. And if you are consuming something that can potentially decrease your ability to think clearly, that can be a problem.”
Mykin understands that many nursing students, especially in Utah, are dependent on caffeine to get through their days and offers some advice. “I think the biggest thing is to be aware, to recognize that if there’s a time and a place that you may need to drink something like that in order to stay safe–okay. But if it’s something that you’re doing regularly, that changes the whole game from staying safe to becoming potentially unsafe,” she says. “I can’t say that in my study, I have found a correlation to drinking this drink and so now, therefore, you’re unsafe. That’s not what I have found. I have not found that yet. I really haven’t. But at the same time, I have found that it decreases your sleep quality. It decreases your sleep quantity. You can have an increased perception of stress. That can be a problem. And then I’ve also found that people who drink energy drinks, feel like they don’t have as much joy or they’re not able to enjoy things as much or they feel more stressed. When they’re driving home, they can be more tired. Those kinds of things are safety issues. So if I’m speaking to students as things I say to my own students, then I say just be thoughtful about what you’re consuming. If you don’t need it, don’t drink it. Drink water. Drink water, if you can. But if you need it, it’s there for you.”
If you want to listen to Episode 51 of The College Handoff that features more insights into how to balance family and getting a graduate degree, more in-depth details about Mykin’s research, and the differences between the Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University nursing programs, go to https://thecollegehandoff.podbean.com/e/energy-drinks-helpful-or-hindering/ or anywhere you listen to podcasts.