A new study by Michigan State University has shown the effects of caffeine on sleep-deprived people and how it influences their actions. The Sleep and Learning Lab at MSU found that caffeine can help sleep-deprived people in simple tasks, but does not assist them in more complex tasks.
The study was published in the recent edition of Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition. It involved 275 participants who were asked to perform a simple and complicated task. Following this, participants were randomly selected to either sleep at home or in a sleep-deprived lab scenario. The following morning, participants were given 200 milligrams of coffee and were asked to repeat the same tasks.
The research found that the participants who were sleep-deprived performed more poorly in both tasks. Caffeine did aid their performance in the easier task, but in most cases, had little to no effect in the complex task. The complex task consisted of multiple steps that had to be completed in a specific order and without repetition.
“Caffeine may improve the ability to stay awake and attend to a task, but it doesn’t do much to prevent the sort of procedural errors that can cause things like medical mistakes and car accidents,” said Kimberly Fenn, MSU Psychology Associate Professor and leader of the study. “Caffeine increases energy, reduces sleepiness and can even improve mood, but it absolutely does not replace a full night of sleep,” Fenn said. “Although people may feel as if they can combat sleep deprivation with caffeine, their performance on higher-level tasks will likely still be impaired. This is one of the reasons why sleep deprivation can be so dangerous.”
The study is a reminder that although caffeine can be beneficial, the benefits are limited. Moreover, it should not be used to compensate for a decent night’s sleep.
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