The secret to a successful day? Cut out the coffee and get more sleep

Everyone loves a morning coffee but new research shows it might not be as perfomance-enhancing as we like to believe.

Two mugs of warm coffee on a sunlit table
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Most of us wake up in the mornings feeling over-tired and head straight for the nearest coffee shop on the way to work. Starting the day with a warm cup o' Joe brew is common across the world, with the British Coffee Association estimating that over two billion cups of coffee are consumed each day globally. 

However, new research suggests that caffeine only helps us stay alert but doesn't undo the effects of a bad night's rest. The researchers at Michigan State University looked at its effectiveness in helping overcome all aspects of sleep deprivation, not just alertness, and it's terrible news for those who use coffee and other caffeinated products to get through the day. You're better off saving the money you'd spend on coffee and grab yourself a sleep aid, such as one of the best diffusers or best mattress toppers

The study asked 276 participants to complete two base-setting tasks. They were then randomly assigned to either stay up all night in a lab or head home to get some sleep. The following morning, they were given a capsule either containing 200mg of caffeine or a placebo. All participants then completed the same tasks as they had the night before. 

To test the effect on different areas of cognition, the researchers used two types of activity; a vigilance task which monitors your sustained attention, and a "placekeeping task" known as UNRAVEL, which monitors your accuracy in completing the task multiple times without skipping or repeating steps. 

woman enjoying coffee in the morning

(Image credit: Getty Images)

As you might expect, the group that stayed up all night performed worse on both tasks than they had the previous evening.

Although the researchers also found that caffeine helped overcome sleep-related impairment in the vigilance task, confirming that coffee can help keep you alert, the caffeinated group showed no improvement over their sleep-deprived uncaffeinated counterparts during the UNRAVEL task. This suggests that lack of sleep affects your mental performance separately from your ability to pay attention for sustained periods. 

There are certainly benefits to coffee beyond the short benefits of mental alertness: research has found moderate coffee consumption can accelerate your metabolism, contains antioxidants and can give you a small boost of energy before exercise. But ultimately, there's no substitute for a good night's sleep. 

Fortunately, if you give up coffee for a week, you might actually find you sleep better anyway. Just keep one of our best water bottles handy instead.

James Frew
Fitness Editor

James is a London-based journalist and Fitness Editor at Fit&Well. He has over five years experience in fitness tech, including time spent as the Buyer’s Guide Editor and Staff Writer at technology publication MakeUseOf. In 2014 he was diagnosed with a chronic health condition, which spurred his interest in health, fitness, and lifestyle management.

In the years since, he has become a devoted meditator, experimented with workout styles and exercises, and used various gadgets to monitor his health. In recent times, James has been absorbed by the intersection between mental health, fitness, sustainability, and environmentalism. When not concerning himself with health and technology, James can be found excitedly checking out each week’s New Music Friday releases.