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Recommendations for Counteracting Sleep Loss

Significant sleep loss causes a decline in one’s alertness and vigor and ability to perform mental tasks, and increases sleepiness and fatigue. This explains why athletes, laborers, and soldiers use two popular strategies to counteract sleep loss.

Take a nap. Snoozing, after a lengthy period of sleep deprivation, causes a reversal of the effects described above. In general, a prophylactic nap of to hours has an effect on mental performance that is similar to consuming – mg of caffeine .- cups of coffee. Further, the beneficial effects of a nap and caffeine are additive. When these strategies are combined, they a are more effective than either strategy alone, and b allow adults to maintain alertness and mental performance near baseline levels before sleep loss during of continuous sleep loss.

Consume caffeine, either in coffee, soft drinks, or food. One cup of coffee may contain up to mg of caffeine, depending on its mode of preparation. In the United States, an average adult coffee drinker consumes – mg of caffeine to cups of coffee each day and – of adults consume up to mg/day. Like taking a nap, caffeine reverses the detrimental effects of sleep loss on mental performance, alertness, and vigor.

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Athletes must consider one precaution. Although caffeine is safe as a food component at doses required to overcome sleep loss, and already exists in many foods, it is banned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the International Olympic Committee. This restriction exists because caffeine enhances exercise performance in endurance activities. However, it is unlikely that caffeine enhances short-term, high-power events.

Finally, a recent study suggests that physiological response may someday help athletes counteract sleep loss. This involves the fact that some people can simply decide to wake up in the morning, and are quite successful at waking within minutes of the time that they select before falling asleep. German scientists have provided the first evidence of a biological basis for such an internal alarm clocka rise in the hormone ACTH and a subsequent rise in the stress hormone cortisol, just minutes prior to the ringing of an alarm clock, prepares the body for termination of a night’s sleep. Knowing this, it is possible that athletes and laborers may someday avoid waking too early. Hopefully, future research will clarify this interesting phenomenon and provide practical methods that discourage the termination of sleep, such as not thinking about a specific wake-up time before going to bed at night.

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