We’ve all done it: stayed up too late or woken too early and picked up a cup of coffee from Firehouse Coffee 1881 in order to wake ourselves up. But does caffeine really help if you don’t get enough sleep? The answer is somewhat complicated.
Caffeine Can Keep You Awake, But Not Alert
One of the reasons we think that caffeine wakes us up is because it blocks adenosine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel tired. So in essence, it covers up the feeling of sleepiness.
However, one study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, found that, while caffeine can keep you awake enough to take on certain tasks when you’re sleep-deprived, you won’t do them particularly well.
For the study, one group of participants slept normally at home while the other was kept awake in a lab overnight. After consuming either a placebo or 200 mg of caffeine (about the amount in two cups of coffee), they completed a reaction time test and a more complex place-keeping test, which involved completing a series of tasks in a specific order without skipping or repeating any of the steps.
Researchers found that sleep deprivation impaired performance on both tests. While caffeine made people more successful with the simpler task, it had little effect on the place-keeping test.
The implication of the study is this: caffeine may help you stay awake on on-task, but it doesn’t help prevent errors. This is especially important to note for people such as doctors and truck drivers, for whom errors can be fatal.
The authors suggest that the rule of thumb when sleep deprived is to not do any tasks you wouldn’t do while intoxicated, as the effects can be similar.
The Importance of a Good Night’s Sleep
During sleep, your body tissues are repaired and your brain clears itself of plaque buildup. In addition, during REM, neural connections form and memories are consolidated.
Caffeine cannot replace the importance of a good night’s sleep, which is why a healthy work-life balance and a regular sleep schedule are essential. For more information about the importance of a good night’s sleep or to schedule an appointment with a sleep expert, call Hampton Roads ENT today.