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Sheets Give Caffeine Jolt, Potential for Abuse

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- What could be easier than putting a red stamp-sized gel strip on your tongue, letting it dissolve and getting a quick energy jolt? No waiting in line at Starbucks, no alcohol-laden Four Loko, just a straight shot of caffeine; the equivalent of about one cup of coffee.

For most adults, who are used to caffeine, nothing could be simpler, experts say.

Sheets, made by Purebrands, is promoted as "0 calories. 0 sugar. B vitamins. Fast acting. The new way to do energy." And "zero crash," as one strip contains about 100 milligrams of caffeine.

But when this latest energy kick gets in the hands of children or already-wired teens, it has the potential for abuse.

Teens already consume too many daily doses of caffeine, from the morning Joe to cokes and energy drinks that can cause palpitations, anxiety, and sleep disturbances, just at the age when they need their sleep for growth, experts say.

"It's a really bad idea," said Rosalind Cartwright, professor emerita in the neurology science division at Rush University in Chicago and a sleep expert. "One hundred milligrams is not that much. But if used repeatedly, it can cause all kinds of trouble.

"It will give them a jolt and somewhat better focus and attention for a short while, but it has a pretty steep dropoff, and if you keep taking it, you get enormously sleepy afterwards."

Co-founder and advertising spokesman NBA star LeBron James demonstrates using Sheets on YouTube, with star power that is likely to appeal to teens. The Florida-based company launched a $10 million promotional campaign in May with TV ads featuring star athletes and posted a billboard in Times Square.

Purebrands CEO Warren Struhl was unavailable for an interview but told ABC News in an email that, "Sheets has been very clear on their packaging in terms of discouraging usage by kids under 12." But caffeine can be hazardous for any age in teens who are sensitive or those with heart conditions or attention-deficit disorder.

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a report this month recommending that teens and children avoid energy and sports drinks, which carry no benefit and some risk. That includes all caffeinated drinks, including colas and coffee.

"Caffeine is very safe; it's used in newborns to increase arousal," said John Herman, professor in sleep medicine at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

"But nothing should be packaged that could appeal to children," Herman said. "It should specify dosage and instructions on how to use it and what is the maximum. A high dose of anything -- sugar or salt -- becomes harmful.

Even one cup of coffee in the morning can affect sleep, which can be more fragmented and lead to early morning awakening, Herman said.

Caffeine intake is growing among children at younger ages, but there are no long-term studies on its effect on child development, according to James W. Wyatt, a clinical psychologist at the Clinic for Sleep Disorders at Rush University.

Teenagers need eight to nine hours of sleep a night so they can "learn optimally," he said. "Everything from attention, concentration, memory and social skills...they all rely on an alert brain."

Repeated sleep loss can compromise the immune system.

Rush University sleep expert Cartwright said high doses of caffeine can even cause dangerous sleep aberrations.

"When you get over their threshold of response, you get rebound sleep that is like a narcolepsy attack and it's very scary for them and for anyone trying to wake them out of it," she said.

In some severe cases, Cartwright said such fatigue can result in a dangerous half-awake, half-asleep state where the brain plays a tug-of-war with itself. A 2001 study published in the journal Nature described a similar state in rats.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio