Andy’s Quick Hits (14): Yikes! Caffeine doesn’t fight sleep deprivation — says latest study

This is the type of scientific study, as interesting as it is, that I don’t like to read. One, I like coffee, two, I have been guilty, often very guilty, of using copious quantities of coffee to prop myself up over the years.

But careful reading of this study by Stepan et al. from Michigan State University is required. There were 275 participants which is a large for this type of study and they were asked to perform two different types of task before and after sleep deprivation. One was a simple cognitive attention task and the second was what they called a “placekeeping task” this is a procedural task of repeating certain actions in a certain order and is cognitively more demanding.

So first off, what was unexpected, is that sleep deprivation negatively impacted both tasks. We knew that: sleep deprivation (even one night) reduces cognitive and procedural ability (but take note of that also).

Then the more intriguing results of what happened with sleep deprivation and caffeine intake (this was placebo controlled) and those that took caffeine (200mg equalling 2–3 espressos). Notably the cognitive attention task improved in those sleep deprived individuals who took caffeine compared to placebo but performance on the placekeeping task was equally bad.

So what does this mean and why is this study important?

“Caffeine increases energy, reduces sleepiness and can even improve mood, but it absolutely does not replace a full night of sleep”

So if it is just a case of staying awake and being vigilant, caffeine is great to counteract sleep deprivation. If it is a case of actually doing complex physical and cognitive tasks — sleep is the only effective antidote. In short nothing beats a good night’s sleep. And this is not to be, but often is, underestimated.

Andy publishes a quick hit every weekday on all things the brain, behaviour, and business. Please follow to receive your daily dose.

Andy is author of leading brains Review a monthly e-magazine on all things the brain, behaviour, and business

The brain and human behaviour, in business, society, learning, and health.

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