You don’t have to witness the queues for Starbucks every morning to know that caffeine is commonly relied upon to wake us up and help us focus when tired. However as highlighted in our blog Should You Cut Out Caffeine Before a Race? regularly consuming too much caffeine reduces its impact over time and if taken too close to bedtime can disrupt your sleep, both of which lead to an increase in tiredness. So the US military have created an algorithm to determine when and how much caffeine an individual should consume to optimise alertness.
The Ideal Caffeine Dosage and Timing for Alertness
The algorithm modelled four sleep loss studies which assessed the impact of sleep and caffeine on alertness by testing psychomotor vigilance task (PVT) performance. PVT performance tests your response times to visual stimuli over a 10 min duration and bad results correlate with deteriorated alertness, slower problem-solving and declined psycho-motor skills. The algorithm identified dosing strategies that either improved performance by up to 64% or reduced caffeine consumption by up to 65% to achieve the same performance as in previous studies.
The algorithm can therefore be used to tailor the timing and amount of caffeine to individual sleep schedules to maximise alertness during periods of sleep deprivation. Unfortunately the algorithm is currently only being used by the US military for testing on soldiers during their training but even if they do licence the software in the future, because we all respond to caffeine so individually, it would still require individual testing. There is however an online tool based on seven related medical studies which can be used.
Even though the tool does not automatically create a caffeine schedule for you, it allows you to experiment with your timing and levels of caffeine and calculates the effect on your alertness based on data from the seven scientific studies. As you can see in the above graph, the red line shows you the impact of the caffeine on your alertness so have a play around and see whether when and how much caffeine you are currently taking is right for you.
The Future of Caffeine Optimisation
Manually testing caffeine schedules is a bit cumbersome currently, but the existing software could easily be integrated into an app. As our ability to accurately group individuals based on their caffeine metabolism improves the app would only require a few simple questions to be able to identify your caffeine metabolism profile and then accurately create a personalised caffeine optimisation strategy.
This might not seem like a big deal, but imagine how productive you would be if you were 64% more alert when you needed to be or if you could reduce your caffeine intake by 65% without reducing your focus. You would sleep better and by reducing your overall caffeine intake it would also limit our tolerance of caffeine so that every time we took a Caffeine Bullet we would still feel its full power.
Tired parents would no longer put the kettle in the fridge, office workers would no longer fall asleep at their desks or drivers fall asleep at the wheel. So watch this space, as if everyone was 65% more alert, the world would be a very different place.
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