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Caffeine and the Drive Home After Night Shift – Does It Help?

February 7, 2020

Written by Nicole McCoin

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Although there is no substitute for good sleep and rest, intake of caffeine at least 75 minutes prior to the end of your night shift may help improve driving performance on your way home.

Why does this matter?
There have been numerous studies on the deleterious effects of night-shift work on both patient care and physician health and well-being. Any tips that we can glean from these studies about how to mitigate some of the dangers of night-shift work are valuable.

Drink some coffee at 75 to stay alive on your drive……. (that’s 75 minutes… just wanted a catchy jingle)…
In this study, 22 anesthesia residents worked 6 consecutive 5:30 PM-7 AM night shifts and were then blinded and randomized to drink either a 16-ounce caffeinated (160mg) Monster Energy Drink or a 16-ounce non-caffeinated Monster Energy Drink over 10 minutes at the end of the sixth night. The residents performed psychomotor vigilance task (PVT) testing 30 minutes after consuming the drink and then completed a driving simulator session at 45-60 minutes. After a subsequent week of night-float work, the residents repeated all testing and acted as their own control by consuming the opposite drink.

The results showed that early on, those who consumed caffeine had more variability in their control of speed, throttle, and steering while in the driving simulator. However, further into the session, caffeine-consumers trended towards better control of speed, throttle, and steering than their non-caffeinated peers, with statistically significant improvement in their management of lane position (p=0.01). Furthermore, in the later driving periods, the caffeinated drivers had fewer collisions and statistically significant improvement in mean reaction time (p=0.021).

It is not clear why the caffeinated residents had worse driving performance in the first time period – possibly the guraraná extract in the caffeinated energy drink made them jittery. Although there is no substitute for adequate sleep and rest, caffeine may be helpful for improvement in attention and driving performance. Furthermore, it may be best to drink that caffeine well in advance of driving home after a night shift – perhaps at least 75 minutes prior to leaving work. How this might impact the quality of subsequent daytime sleep was not considered.

Impact of Caffeine Ingestion on the Driving Performance of Anesthesiology Residents After 6 Consecutive Overnight Work Shifts. Anesth Analg. 2020 Jan;130(1):66-75. doi: 10.1213/ANE.0000000000004252.

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