13 May 2004

How To Stay Awake Longer

Coffee, anyone?

A group of Harvard researchers just found out that drinking a large cup of coffee in the morning gives you an initial boost that soon wears off. They say taking lots of small coffees are better at keeping you alert. Their report is published in the latest issue of the journal Sleep.

Caffeine, the main ingredient in coffee, interferes with the systems that govern our sleep. The circadian system and the homeostatic system regulates our sleep duration, and time when we get sleepy. The circadian system is a complex system that promotes sleep rhythmically, detects night from day, and works with melatonin release and some other hormones (our body clock) in a cyclical fashion. The homeostatic system, on the other hand, tells us how much sleep we need. In other words, the circadian system tells us when to sleep and the homeostatic system tells us how long to sleep.

Personally though, I tend to place more credence to a study published July 2002 in the Journal of Applied Physiology, which found that caffeine increased the amount of wakefulness time for people who took them, but non-coffee drinkers enjoyed the largest boost. The same study also found out that coffee continued to stimulate non-users up to six hours later, whereas by that time the habitual java drinkers had long since come off their high.

This leads me to the following conclusions, therefore:
- coffee in small amounts throughout the day in intervals of 2-3 hours can boost your alertness state.
- between coffee and non-coffee drinkers, the latter experience more time awake when subjected to the small coffee doses program.
- the best approach would be to take coffee when really needed; taking it on a habitual basis decreases its effectivity because of reaching a certain "caffeine threshold" beyond which no further appreciable alertness effect can be observed or noted.

There is really no shortcut to improving your alertness level. The best way is still to get an uninterrupted 8-hour sleep every night.

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