Caffeine does not Substitute Sleep

Any programmer will tell you how much they rely on coffee to meet strict deadlines. However, researchers from Michigan State University warn that energy drinks, caffeine, and the like are not substitutes for actual sleep.

Performing cognitive tasks on caffeine

Their recent study investigated how effective caffeine can get in matters overriding the cognitive burden of a sleepless night. After being awake all night, the researchers required 275 participants to complete a few simple attention tasks and a slightly more challenging peacekeeping task. The latter entailed completing a few tasks in a specific order without repeating or skipping any steps. On the peacekeeping task especially, the researchers wanted to see the effect caffeine would have on sleep-deprived individuals.

Kimberly Fenn, a lead study author, says they found that sleep deprivation affected the performance of both types of tasks. Having caffeine improved the results of the easier attention tasks. When it came to peacekeeping, however, caffeine did little to help most participants. Kimberly is also an associate professor of psychology at Michigan State.

She adds that although caffeine can help you stay awake and attend to a task, it does not prevent the procedural errors that could arise from sleep deprivation.

Sleep disorders and insomnia are very common problems in the US, and the pandemic has only worsened this. Prolonged periods of low-quality sleep will lead to poorer mood, cognition, and even immune health.

Fenn notes that caffeine reduces sleepiness, increases energy, and can even boost mood, but there is no alternative for a quality full night’s sleep. Although many people may feel like they have conquered sleep with caffeine, their performance on high-level tasks could prove otherwise. This is one of the main reasons why sleep deprivation is so risky.

Procedural errors

She adds that if they found caffeine to reduce procedural errors associated with sleep deprivation like a car or medical accidents, the study would have offered good news to individuals who perform high-level tasks with insufficient sleep, such as surgeons. As it stands, however, the study could only emphasize the importance of quality sleep.

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