Breaking Point Avoided with Caffeine Pick-Me-Up

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The association between caffeine and a decrease in risk taking behaviour when one is suffering from sleep deprivation has been proven. The result of a new study shows that even when extreme sleep deprivation is occurring, the participants in the study who were given fixed rates of caffeine dosage showed no taking of risky behaviour.

The measure was made against (BART): Balloon Analog Risk Task a computerised method of measuring the taking of impulsive risks.

Excessive Deprivation

Taking the subjects of the study and giving some a placebo and some caffeine gum the researchers were able to demonstrate risk taking over time spent without sleep, right up to the excessive 75 hour period.

51-75 hours in

There was a measurable success demonstrated as the placebo fed subjects whilst unchanged against normal parameters of risk taking up until 51 hours without sleep, thereafter they showed significant increases in risky behaviour between 51 hours and 75 hours into the study. The caffeine fed group showed no change in risky behaviour leading up to the 51 hour point and the risky behaviour they demonstrated against the (BART) measure showed that they were considerably less risk to their actions right up to the 75 hour point.

Investigator Notes

Principal investigator Maj. William D. “Scott” Killgore, PhD, who is the research psychologist at the Harvard Medical School and Walter Reed Army Institute of Research said, “Sleep deprivation may not have a simple linear effect on risk taking; however, there may be a ‘breaking point’ during which a person may show a drastic release in their ability to control or inhibit behaviour.”

No Regard to Consequences

It is apparent to the Professor that caffeine manages to make a difference in people when used in the instance of extreme sleep deprivation, without caffeine he noted people become more impulsive, acting without regard to the consequences. He also noted however that, were they to take caffeine each night there was no increase. The amount of caffeine people needed to take to get that result would be 1-2 cups of coffee every two hours from after midnight, until the arrival of dawn.

Double Blind

The study had 25 participants all of whom were in a healthy state. They were aged 20-35 and made to go without sleep for a three day period. It was a double blind test where no one knew which individuals were in receipt of the placebo and the caffeine was given in chewing gum form. There was placebo gum too, and those 21 men and 4 women were given the gum between 1am and 7am on each of the sleep deprived days.

Cash In

Later in the morning they were asked to take part in behavioural tasks where risky behaviour could be accessed. The computer programme (BART) came into effect on their behaviour was based on the inflation of virtual balloons. Here the participants were asked to ‘cash in’ the balloons value whilst the bigger the balloon would become the more value it would be worth but the more likely it would be to pop.

Still Relevant

Whilst the author of the study is at pains to state how this is at the more extreme end of sleep deprivation a place where thankfully few people must dwell, the results are still relevant. He noted how a previous study found that when there was a chronic restriction of sleep to 3 hours per night running for a week, the sleep restricted individuals showed that there was the same increase in the taking of risks in the same balloon game.

He concludes that therefore it is possible that there is a similar ‘breaking point’ to these sleep deprived persons as those who spend 75 hour stint without sleep, although further research is needed to prove this.

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