How Much Coffee Do I Need To Stay Awake? There’s A Way To Find Out, But It’s Complicated

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For those of you out there who are bona fide caffeine fanatics like me, you most likely agree with the notion that a life without coffee is a life hardly worth living at all. Caffeine wakes you up, gives you butterflies in your stomach and a shot of adrenaline to your brain, and occasionally makes you feel sick if you've had too much. But there's amazing news on that last front: There's now a way to find out exactly how much coffee your body needs to stay awake and alert, so you'll never have to go overboard on the java again.

According to a new study, which was published in the Journal of Sleep Research and carried out by scientists at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command in Maryland, there's now an algorithm that makes it possible to figure out how much coffee a person needs, and at what time they need it. LiveScience reports that the algorithm takes into consideration a variety of lifestyle factors, such as a person's sleep schedule and weight, when figuring out what their sweet spot is for caffeine consumption. Jaques Reifman, the senior author of the study, explained,

We developed algorithms that work together, and they essentially allow us to determine, at the individual level, when and how much the individual should take caffeine to achieve peak performance at the desired time, for the desired duration.

The new algorithm was shown to improve a person's ability to complete attention-focused tasks by as much as 64 percent.

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So basically, the algorithm proves, at the very least, that drinking coffee is, in fact, a full-blown science. What's more, this study shows that not all cups of caffeine are created equal: Drinking your coffee at the right time might just be monumental in terms of getting the results that you want. In other words, drinking smart is more effective than simply drinking a ton, which is probably good news to all you coffee addicts out there who drink a mug an hour to stay awake (#guilty).

There's a slight catch to all of this, though. While the researchers have already transformed this technology into an app called 2B-Alert, the general public isn't yet allowed to know the juicy details, aka how much caffeine a typical person should be consuming to reach "peak performance." For now, the only thing you're allowed to know is a general prediction of your performance, based on your sleep time and current caffeine consumption.

So, arguably, you could run your own similar experiment to figure out how much caffeine your brain and body need to reach peak performance, by consuming different amounts of coffee and at different points of the day. But in general, you'll have to wait to reap all of the benefits of this fascinating algorithm.

The reason why scientists are holding back on this information, though, is because it wasn't really made for us.

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Or, at least, the algorithm wasn't initially designed for us regular peeps to swarm all over. In the study, the researchers clarified that their goal was to find a tool that "could provide customized caffeine-consumption guidance" to help "sustain the attention of sleep-deprived military personnel." In other words, the researchers were more concerned with finding an effective way for people in the U.S. military to consume caffeine to improve their attention and performance, and they weren't exactly designing the algorithm for 20-somethings who need a way to make it through a dreary Monday morning at the office. This makes sense, since this whole study was funded by the military anyway.

Still, LiveScience reports, Reifman noted there was a long-term plan to reveal this information to the public, specifically so that workers with high levels of fatigue, such as construction workers or people who work night shifts, can reap the benefits of better, more sustainable performance, as well. "We all suffer from sleep deprivation [from time to time]," Reifman said. Ain't that the truth.

Regardless of whether or not you and I can get our hands on this algorithm immediately, it's still a pretty cool step forward in research and technology in general. Per ScienceDaily, Reifman noted that this algorithm is the "first quantitative tool that provides automated, customized guidance for safe and effective caffeine dosing to maximize alertness at the most needed times during any sleep-loss condition."

It seems a little bit unfair that future generations of sleep-deprived college students will have access to this information, but I guess that's neither here nor there.