Perhaps while performing the daily routine of groggily pounding back your third cup of coffee before noon, desperately hoping to achieve a state approximating alertness, you sometimes stop and think that there must be a better solution. (One beside getting more sleep, because that’s laughably out of the question.)
Well, thanks to research sponsored by the US Army, one is coming soon. A team of biotech software experts and behavioral biologists from the Medical Research and Materiel Command in Fort Detrick, Maryland, have developed a computer algorithm that determines the ideal dose and timing of caffeine intake needed to keep your brain running at maximum efficiency.
"We found that by using our algorithm, which determines when and how much caffeine a subject should consume, we can improve alertness by up to 64 percent, while consuming the same total amount of caffeine," principal investigator Jaques Reifman said in a statement. "Alternatively, a subject can reduce caffeine consumption by up to 65 percent and still achieve equivalent improvements in alertness."
Reifman’s algorithm is built into a computer model his group previously created to predict the unique effects that an individual’s sleep deprivation, daily schedule, and caffeine intake will have on their cognitive function throughout the day.
In their new study, published in the Journal of Sleep Research, the team describes the theoretical underpinnings of the combined algorithm and how they tested it against data from real-world studies that investigated alertness – measured as reaction time to visual stimulus – as a function of sleep and caffeine.
The final product pumps out a caffeine-dosing strategy after users input their sleep/wake schedule and the maximum allowable caffeine they’re willing to consume.
“In this work, our goal was to develop a computational tool to provide, in real time, effective caffeine-dosing strategies for any arbitrary sleep-loss condition,” they wrote. “Once incorporated into a mobile computing device, such a tool could provide customized caffeine-consumption guidance to, for example, sustain the attention of sleep-deprived military personnel.”
The authors conclude by reporting that they plan to incorporate this algorithm into their existing open-access web tool, called 2B-Alert, meaning that any burnt-out worker with an Internet connection will soon be able to convert their manic coffee binges into optimized, restrained doses.
Reifman and his colleagues emphasize, however, that the algorithm is not perfect. For starters, they warn that performance on a reaction time test, called a psychomotor vigilance task, likely does not reflect how the brain does on other types of cognitive tasks, such as learning. Additionally, the combined model does not account for the effects of sustained sleep deprivation (past research has shown that caffeine’s benefits lose their potency after four consecutive days of insufficient sleep) nor does it consider individual variations in sensitivity to the compound.
So, when the revamped 2B-Alert rolls out, use it with caution.