Caffeine can’t replace a good night’s sleep, researchers say

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Experts recommend adopting healthier sleeping routines instead of loading up on caffeine

Caffeine is the go-to way many consumers start their mornings. While it may help fight lingering fatigue, a new study explored how caffeine can impact consumers who struggle with getting enough sleep

According to researchers from the University of Michigan, no caffeinated beverage can replace a good night’s sleep. Their work showed that caffeine can help consumers feel more alert, but the body needs regular sleep to perform at its best. 

“Caffeine increases energy, reduces sleepiness, and can even improve mood, but it absolutely does not replace a full night of sleep,” said researcher Kimberly Fenn. “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 importance of a good night’s sleep

To understand the effect that caffeine and sleep deprivation can have on consumers, the researchers had 276 people participate in an overnight study. Participants were assigned to either stay awake in the lab all night or sleep at home. The next morning, they were given either a 200mg capsule of caffeine or a placebo pill. Both prior to the sleeping experiment and after the caffeine consumption, participants completed assessments that measured their ability to perform tasks in a given order and also maintain focus and attention. 

The researchers learned that caffeine certainly gave the participants an energy boost, but combining it with poor sleep led to more mistakes when completing assessments. Having caffeine was beneficial when it came to attention-based tasks, but it proved to be ineffective when it came to doing more difficult things, like keeping order in a procedure. 

“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 Fenn. 

The researchers hope that these findings encourage consumers to adopt healthier sleep routines. While caffeine can still be a regular part of consumers’ mornings, these findings highlight that there is no substitute for getting quality, restful sleep each night. 

“If we had found that caffeine reduced procedural errors under conditions of sleep deprivation, this would have broad implications for individuals who must perform high stakes procedures with insufficient sleep, like surgeons, pilots, and police officers,” said Fenn. “Instead, our findings underscore the importance of prioritizing sleep.”