Jan 5, 2008

Boost your alertness with coffee or a nap? Or both?

The December issue of the journal Sleep published a study on the alertness-enhancing benefits of two widely used and readily available fatigue countermeasures -- caffeine (in the form of coffee) and napping. The French study looked at 12 subjects in their early 20s and 12 subjects in their early 40s.

The findings? Caffeine proved to be the more effective fatigue countermeasure. Napping also proved effective but was most effective for the younger group. The older group did not benefit as much from a nap.

This is a small study and there's always a danger in drawing far-reaching conclusions based on minimal data. But, it's interesting to note that at least for this test, subjects performance improved more using one cup of coffee (about 200 mg of caffeine) than they did using a placebo (decaf coffee) or a 20-minute nap.

I was also interested to see that the study put the test subjects behind the wheel and on a French highway for 125 miles. Wow. That seems dangerous. I don't think I'd want to do that in the United States if I was running that study.

In the real world
You're not forced to choose one or the other. If you're highly fatigued, have a cup of coffee and then immediately take a 20-minute nap. The caffeine takes a while to kick in anyway, and a short nap will get you a sleep benefit without making you groggy. This can be a particularly useful strategy when you know you'll need to be driving home from work after a long night shift. Be careful about overdoing the coffee so you'll be able to get to sleep when you get home. Also, if you're really fatigued, consider not driving at all -- take a cab, go to a nearby motel, or find some other alternative.

What are the fatigue countermeasures you use to boost your alertness?

No comments: