New iPhone app monitors caffeine intake

As the world’s most popular drug, caffeine gives mixed side effects to people who can’t get through the day without their coffee fix. Frank Ritter, professor of information sciences and technology, along with Martin Yeh, assistant professor of computer science and engineering, have devised an iPhone application that is intended to help people manage their caffeine consumption to suit their lifestyles.

“We wanted to have a mobile tool so that [users] can see how much caffeine is in the body,” Yeh said.

Caffeine Zone 2 is an iPhone app that monitors, predicts and displays a user’s caffeine level in real-time based on a pharmacokinetic model and the user’s input of when he or she consumes caffeine. The app, which has been in development for about 18 months, became available in December on the App Store. Both a free version of Caffeine Zone 2 (with ads) and a paid version ($0.99 without ads) are able to run on iPhones and iPod Touches, as well as on iPads.

Caffeine Zone 2 was developed by the Applied Cognitive Science Lab at the College of Information Sciences and Technology and spun out through a small company started by Ritter with the permission of the Office of Naval Research and Penn State. The app is based on research sponsored by ONR.

According to Ritter and Yeh, caffeine offers a number of benefits to users, including for some, an enhanced sense of confidence while speaking in public, and the ability to stay awake during late-night study sessions or work shifts. However, they added, many people are unaware of how their patterns of caffeine consumption can be disruptive when they do want to go to sleep.

“We know some people are over-caffeinated,” Ritter said.

Caffeine can be a tricky substance to manage, Ritter and Yeh said. Caffeine Zone 2 lists an 8 ounce cup of coffee as containing 120 mg of caffeine, while the same amount of tea contains 55 mg of caffeine. In addition, Ritter and Yeh said, caffeine takes a certain amount of time for the body to process.  The biological half-life of caffeine -- the time required for the body to eliminate one-half of the total amount of caffeine that was consumed -- is about six hours for healthy adults. For people who have trouble sleeping, Ritter said, it would be wise to avoid consuming caffeine later in the day.

Caffeine Zone 2 users can enter their caffeine consumption by choosing from three different sizes of coffee or tea (8 ounces, 12 ounces or 16 ounces) or 100 mg of caffeine gum. The app also asks users how fast they drank their beverage -- instant (1 minute), fast (5 minutes), medium (20 minutes), or slow (60 minutes). After they make their selections, the app generates a line chart of predicted caffeine level for the next 24 hours. It also shows a cognitive active zone, an area of caffeine level where most people will feel active, and a sleep zone, an area of caffeine level where most people will be able to sleep. The values are adjustable, and the zones can be changed to represent individual differences.

Caffeine Zone 2 can be a “decision aide” to help individuals learn “how to use coffee correctly,” Yeh said. For example, he added, on a long car trip, the app can help a driver understand how much coffee to drink -- and how fast to drink it -- to stay alert through the trip.

Within a week or two of using Caffeine Zone 2, Ritter said, many people may be able to manage their caffeine consumption independently. However, he added, individuals such as truck drivers and night shift workers can “use it as a daily function to compute what to do.”

In the future, Ritter and Yeh said, they would like to implement a couple of new features in Caffeine Zone 2. They would also like to offer a wider variety of caffeinated beverages, such as energy drinks, in more sizes.

 
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Last Updated February 21, 2012