Cognitive performance: caffeine is not a panacea

Lead author Kimberly Fenn, associate psychologist notes: “Chronic lack of sleep not only affects cognition and changes moods, but can also reduce immune capacity.” The study confirms that caffeine increases energy, reduces sleepiness, and may improve mood, but it cannot compensate for the decreased cognitive performance associated with sleep deprivation.

Caffeine does not affect the performance of complex cognitive tasks

The researchers evaluated the effectiveness of caffeine in the sleep lab in countering the negative effects of sleep deprivation in 275 participants, and they asked to perform a simple attention task as well as a more difficult spatial orientation task that required performing the tasks in a specific order and according to well-defined stages. Experience shows that sleep deprivation affects performance on these two types of cognitive tasks:

  • Caffeine helps with the simplest tasks but has no effect on performing the more complex task, which mobilizes higher cognitive functions;
  • Thus caffeine can improve alertness and alertness but does not improve the performance of a complex cognitive process.
  • On the contrary, caffeine appears to impair performance in accomplishing complex tasks;

“This is one of the reasons sleep deprivation is so dangerous.”

The example is given by medical errors

And motor vehicle accidents that result from complex cognitive processes that are often associated with poor sleep.

“If we find that caffeine can significantly reduce procedural errors that occur under conditions of sleep deprivation, it may have far-reaching effects in certain areas, such as surgery, medicine and care.” But this study confirms that when it comes to cognitive performance, nothing can replace a good night’s sleep.

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