Caffeine As a Countermeasure Against Fatigue


Fatigue is an important issue that pilots need to deal with, because fatigue can seriously reduce the performance of the pilots and contribute to accidents and incidents. Caffeine is a counter measure that pilots use it to overcome the effects of fatigue. It is usually acquired by drinking coffee. Researchers conducted an experiment, researchers wanted to know if caffeine can increase the performance of the pilots when they are in a sleep deprivation situation.

Experiment Result

The experiment selected 15 healthy military pilots form Finland, and these people are all coffee users (Kilpelainen et al., 2010). In the experiment, seven of them received caffeine and eight of them received placebo. They went through four tests, which were hearing and speech test, simulator test, vigilance test and learning test, in a sleep deprivation situation. Some of test’s results are listed in figure 1.

Feeling of Fatigue Vigour Decrease Feeling of Inefficiency Decrease of Sustained Attention Decrease of Correct Hits Decline of Reaction Time
Caffeine Group p < 0.01 p < 0.05 p < 0.01 p = 0.238 p < 0.01 p < 0.001
Placebo Group p < 0.05 p < 0.01 p = 0.07 p < 0.01 p < 0.01 p < 0.001

Figure 1

As figure 1 shows, feeling of fatigue increased very significantly in placebo group (p < 0.01), and increased significantly in caffeine group (p < 0.05). Vigour of placebo group also decreased more significantly than caffeine group. Pilots in placebo group also felt inefficient during the tests compared with pilots in caffeine group, and pilots in caffeine group also had better sustained attention. However, the decrease of correct hits and decline of reaction time of the two groups were the same. This shows that coffee can improve some performances of the pilot, but it cannot really solve the problems which caused by sleep deprivation.

Increase of Confusion Decrease of Well-being Feeling of Blurred Vision Increased
Caffeine Group p < 0.01 p < 0.05 p < 0.05
Placebo Group p = 0.12 ns ns

Figure 2

Caffeine Deprivation Symptoms

Interestingly enough, caffeine deprivation can cause withdrawal symptoms no matter how little a person use it (Kilpelainen et al., 2010). As figure 2 shows, pilots who received caffeine are more likely to feel confused, blurred vision and decrease of well-being. Pilots should better have a good sleep instead of rely heavily on coffee and energy drinks which contain caffeine.

Kilpelainen, A. A., Huttunen, K. H., Lohi, J. J., & Lyytinen, H. (2010). Effect of caffeine on vigilance and cognitive performance during extended wakefulness. The International Journal of Aviation Psychology, 20(2), 144-159.

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