mise à jour du
21 mai 2006
Physiol Behav.
Caffeine deprivation affects vigilance performance
and mood
Lane JD, Phillips-Bute BG.
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences,
Duke University Medical Center, Durham, USA.


The effects of brief caffeine deprivation on vigilance performance, mood, and symptoms of caffeine withdrawal were studied in habitual coffee drinkers. Thirty male and female coffee drinkers were tested twice at midday (1130 to 1330 hours) after mornings in which they either consumed caffeinated beverages ad lib or abstained. Vigilance performance was tested with a 30-min computerized visual monitoring task. Mood and withdrawal symptom reports were collected by questionnaires. Caffeine deprivation was associated with impaired vigilance performance characterized by a reduction in the percentage of targets detected and an increase in response time, and by subjective reports of decreased vigor and increased fatigue and symptoms characterized by sleepiness, headache, and reduced ability to work. Even short periods of caffeine deprivation, equivalent in length to skipping regular morning coffee, can produce deficits in sustained attention and noticeable unpleasant caffeine-withdrawal symptoms in habitual coffee drinkers. Such symptoms may be a common side-effect of habitual caffeine consumption that contributes to the maintenance of this behavior.
CAFFEINE is one of the most popular drugs in the world today, and it is consumed by more than 85% of Americans. Unfortunately, the habitual use of caffeine is not free of detrimental consequences for health and well-being. Perhaps the most common adverse effect of habitual caffeine consumption is the pattern of symptoms that characteristically appears when habitual consumers abruptly stop caffeine intake, a syndrome labeled caffeine withdrawal. The clearest symptom of caffeine withdrawal is headache, which was described in the literature as early as 1952. The caffeine withdrawal syndrome is also characterized by sleepiness and fatigue, irritability, and difficulty concentrating, and some studies have reported the appearance of flu-like symptoms and clinically meaningful levels of depression and anxiety. Caffeine withdrawal is a concern not only for heavy coffee drinkers. Symptoms of headache, fatigue, sleepiness and decreased vigor, alertness, and activity were observed on days of abstinence in people who normally consumed as little as 100 mg of caffeine per day, which is the amount contained in a single cup of coffee. Given the experimental evidence and the widespread consumption of caffeine in coffee, tea, soft drinks and medications, the majority of the population is at risk for the appearance of the caffeine withdrawal syndrome if their normal patterns of intake are disrupted. The impact that this syndrome may have on health and behavior deserves investigation.
Most experimental investigations of caffeine withdrawal symptoms have involved several days or more of caffeine deprivation, a research strategy that provides the opportunity to observe the full range and intensity of clinical symptoms. However, such extended periods of abstinence are rare in everyday life. We have recently been investigating the effects of shorter periods of deprivation, equivalent to the situation in which someone misses his or her morning coffee. Such periods of deprivation, lasting only a few hours beyond the time of normal consumption, are probably common in the course of daily life. Evidence from our studies and those of other investigators suggests even brief deprivation can lead to noticeable symptoms of headache and fatigue in habitual coffee drinkers.
In our studies, habitual coffee drinkers have been examined at midday following mornings of caffeine intake or caffeine deprivation. Studies have contrasted both ad lib consumption versus voluntary abstinence and fixed doses of 250 mg of caffeine versus placebo administered in capsules under double-blind conditions. When deprived of caffeine for only a few hours, habitual coffee drinkers reported decreased energy, desire to socialize, ability to concentrate, and urge to work, as well as increased drowsiness, lethargy, and yawning. Headache and flu-like feelings were reported by many. Despite the subjective symptoms that appeared, deprivation had no effect on psychomotor performance measured with a battery of brief (2 mm) tasks that assessed a range of simple and complex cognitive functions including motor speed, reaction time, working memory, and logical reasoning. The short duration of these tasks may have contributed to the failure to detect impaired psychomotor performance, because participants reported casually that they could push themselves to overcome the deficits they felt. The present study was conducted to characterize further the effects of brief caffeine deprivation and to explore whether psychomotor deficits might be apparent in a longer task. After mornings of ad lib caffeine consumption or voluntary caffeine abstinence, habitual coffee drinkers rated their mood and experience of withdrawal symptoms and performed a 30-min visual monitoring vigilance task. The vigilance task was selected because caffeine is often used to enhance or sustain attention during monotonous circumstances. Given the symptoms associated with caffeine withdrawal in our studies, we hypothesized that sustained attention and vigilance performance would suffer when coffee drinkers were deprived of caffeine.
These results confirm our earlier studies and suggest that even brief periods of caffeine deprivation, lasting only a few hours beyond the time that caffeine would normally be consumed in the morning, can produce significant changes in mood and symptoms associated with caffeine withdrawal. Moreover, this brief deprivation was associated with a deficit in the performance of a visual monitoring vigilance task, reducing the number of targets detected and slowing the speed of response.
The effects on mood and symptom reports replicate closely our earlier findings for caffeine deprivation of this duration, in studies that compared ad lib and abstinent conditions and double-blind administration of a fixed moderate dose and placebo. These effects can be summarized as representing subjective feelings of decreased alertness and increased sleepiness along with increased irritability and decreased interest in work and in socializing. Headache does appear in some, but not all, individuals with this length of deprivation. Such symptoms could have a negative impact on performance of daily activities and would definitely be considered aversive.
The demonstration of a significant impairment of vigilance performance in this study contrasts with our earlier failure to detect performance effects with a battery of brief psychomotor tasks. At the present time we cannot determine whether either the duration or the nature of the task made a difference. Certainly it was less likely that deprived participants could overcome the subjective effects of caffeine withdrawal for the 30 min required by the vigilance task, as they had reported doing when tasks lasted 2 min or less. The significant interaction of caffeine condition and trial block, which showed that the decrement grew over time, supports the argument that task duration contributed to the detection of a deprivation effect. The deprivation-related performance decrement was ambiguous in the first 5 min of the task, but was clearly present later on. Moreover, performance demonstrated a greater negative slope and a larger positive quadratic component after deprivation. However, the characteristics of the vigilance task, which required sustained attention and effort under monotonous conditions without immediate feedback on performance, may also have contributed to the demonstration of a decrement in performance. Certainly tasks of this nature represent many kinds of common everyday work activity. The results of this laboratory study may perhaps be generalized to similar tasks in the natural environment, for which performance may also suffer when habitual coffee drinkers are deprived of caffeine.
The comparison of ad lib intake and abstinence conditions was designed to simulate natural circumstances of caffeine consumption and deprivation, although this approach has two potential limitations. Ad lib intake did vary among the participants, which could have obscured treatment effects by increasing variability in dependent measures. However, treatment effects were observed despite variability in intake, and correlation/regression analysis found that the variations in intake could not consistently account for variations in the effects. Second, given the nature of the experimental treatments, participants were not blind to the experimental conditions of testing. As a result, expectations about the effects of caffeine intake or abstinence may have contributed to the treatment differences. However, such expectations would be present under the natural conditions of consumption and deprivation where the effects of caffeine deprivation would be important. Moreover, we have previously reported similar mood and symptom effects of caffeine deprivation when treatments were administered double-blind and expectations were controlled. Thus, the presence of expectations is probably not an important limitation for the interpretation of these results.
These results have two implications for understanding caffeine consumption in the real world. First, brief periods of caffeine deprivation in habitual caffeine consumers may have a meaningful impact on everyday mood and work performance. Although occasional episodes of caffeine deprivation might not be detrimental to overall work performance in many occupational situations, some work activities do demand constant vigilance. Air-traffic control and interstate highway trucking can be offered as two examples of occupations that cannot afford even intermittent bouts of sleepiness and impaired attention. Here caffeine deprivation effects might prove to be more critical, and field studies might be appropriate to determine how caffeine deprivation affects performance and safety in these and other similar occupations. Second, the aversive nature of the mood, symptom, and performance changes associated with caffeine withdrawal may have implications for understanding the motivations that maintain habitual caffeine consumption. When caffeine is consumed daily, overnight abstinence will lead to the systemic clearance of caffeine from the body and the presence of withdrawal symptoms apparent upon awakening. Relief of these aversive symptoms would provide reinforcement for caffeine consumption in the morning, which might contribute significantly to the maintenance of typical daily caffeine consumption behaviors. More research is needed to clarify the relative contributions of negative and positive reinforcement in caffeine consumption, which will speak to the issue of whether caffeine is a drug that creates physical and psychological dependence.
Caffeine consumption is nearly ubiquitous, and the effects of caffeine consumption influence the lives of the vast majority of the population. The investigation of brief caffeine deprivation provides insight into one aspect of caffeine consumption behavior that may have implications for public health and safety.
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-Lane JD Effects of brief caffeinated-beverage deprivation on mood, symptoms, and psychomotor performance. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1997;58(1):203-208
-Lane JD, Phillips-Bute BG Caffeine deprivation affects vigilance performance and mood. Physiol Behav.1998;65(1):171-175