Working the night shift? Caffeine can reduce mistakes

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A review of 13 trials analyzing the effects of caffeine on the performance of shift workers — or those whose hours require them to stay awake while most people are sleeping — reinforces what many of us intuitively know: a caffeine boost can make a significant difference.

The analysis, led by Katharine Ker of the London School of Tropical Medicine and published by the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, included trials that gave workers caffeine in many different forms — in coffee, pills, food and energy drinks. They found that, compared with placebos and even naps, caffeine was associated with better performance on a wide range of tasks designed to test memory, attention and other capabilities.

While the studies reviewed didn’t include data on injuries, the authors surmise that improved overall performance likely means lower risk of getting hurt, or causing injury — which can make a big difference for workers who have to operate heavy machinery or health professionals who have to perform surgeries or give careful doses of medication during overnight shifts.