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I am trying to figure out whether caffeine helps productivity in the long run. Looking back 10 years from now, how much more/less productive will I have been if I were to drink coffee every day, or every second day?
Reviewing what has been written on the topic by our community so far:
- Justin summarizes effects of caffeine: impairment of long-term memory, narrowed focus, increased short-term memory and recall, increased attentional control, increased memory retention and retrieval. From this, he tentatively concludes in favor of use for tasks that benefit from these effects. However, does this conclusion still hold for regular use? We need to take into account reduced stimulation due to increase in tolerance and potentially impairment during withdrawal.
- In a comment on Justin's article, simplyeric writes: "There are studies (that I read years ago, and have no link to) that show that consistency is better... that consistent low-level caffeine drinkers are more alert than their non-caffeine colleagues, but less jittery than high-caffeine people (optimum seemed to be 2-3 cups per day)." This is the kind of evidence I am interested in. Does anyone recall such studies?
- Gwern's review of nootropics lists a number of potential negative effects, including effects on memory, performance (in high doses), sleep, and mood. In justifying its use despite these effects, he states that "[his] problems tend to be more about akrasia and energy and not getting things done, so even if a stimulant comes with a little cost to long-term memory, it's still useful for [him]". Is there conclusive evidence that in the long run, caffeine increases energy and helps with akrasia?
- Skatche's review of psychoactive drugs presents anecdotal evidence in favor: "Taken on a fairly regular daily schedule, caffeine seems to improve my attention, motivation and energy level." To what extent do such anecdotes reflect true improvement? If regular use of caffeine were to result in decreased baseline performance and if the effect of caffeine were limited to restoring baseline, this could feel similar from the inside.
If caffeine was consumed, the adverse effects of lowered alertness and headache were avoided, but even after 100+150 mg of caffeine their alertness was not raised above the level of alertness showed by nonconsumers of caffeine (group N) who received placebo (Figure 1, middle panel). This result is similar to that from an early study comparing responses to caffeine of coffee drinkers and abstainers (Goldstein et al, 1969), and is consistent with the claim, supported by a variety of subsequent findings, that regular caffeine consumption provides little or no net benefit for alertness or performance on tests of vigilance (James and Rogers, 2005; Sigmon et al, 2009).
The study also demonstrated robust acute effects of caffeine unconfounded by caffeine withdrawal, but no evidence for net beneficial effects of daily caffeine administration.
Overall, there is little evidence of caffeine having beneficial effects on performance or mood under conditions of long-term caffeine use vs abstinence. Although modest acute effects may occur following initial use, tolerance to these effects appears to develop in the context of habitual use of the drug.
"I'd like to poison your mind / With wrong ideas that appeal to you / Though I am not unkind..." Per my past practice of linking stuff I think LWers will find interesting, here is what I've been up to lately:
- "Politicians are Ethical": applying base-rate neglect
- Modafinil: a dual-pronged argument for low-balling estimates of modafinil harm by pointing to both temporal and quality discounting of health in old age. (If you missed it the first time around, I still think my mini-tutorial on drug ordering with Bayes's theorem is worth reading.)
- "The Narrowing Circle": argument that the usual belief of 'moral progress' and the 'expanding circle' assume many of their conclusions by pointing to the beliefs and classes of entities discarded along the way. (As many LWers share those assumptions and will be unsympathetic, the interesting parts may be the footnotes on perpetuities and waqfs, inasmuch as those bear directly on cryonics.)
- Both Modafinil and Spaced repetition have been expanded with scores more links to studies & PDFs. (Nicotine and Melatonin are next.)
- "Worldbuilding: The Lights in the Sky are Sacs" is a silly bit of SF/alternate history speculation involving floating hydrogen-sac organisms.
- "Wikipedia and Knol" has been completed, as the 7 predictions I made on the matter have been judged thanks to Google's recent announcements; I blew one.
- Stuff which is incomplete or which is just a pile of notes:
- I stuck a link in the footer of every page to a Google spreadsheet form, borrowing the idea from lukeprog - I've only gotten 1 feedback so far, IIRC, but that was before I put it in the footer and updated all the pages a few hours ago.
I've known that the mind can be affected by the body's actions, but I often forget this when sitting at my computer chair for long stretches, and when standing and interacting in social situations I've subconciously cultivated a passive, non-confrontational but minimally interactive posture. But simple physical actions can act as a mild nootropic for certain situations.
Article with citations: 10 Simple Postures that Boost Performance
1. Take a powerful pose to feel powerful
2. Tense muscles for willpower
3. Cross arms for persistence
4. Lie down for insight
5. Nap for cognitive performance, vigour and wakefulness
6. Hand gestures for persuasion
7. Gesture to self for comprehension and memory
8. Smile for happiness
9. Mimic to empathize
10. Imitate for comprehension and prediction
Limitless is a movie coming out this Friday which includes nootropics as a major plot device. I think that the way they are portrayed in the movie, and the subsequent media discussion (if any) about nootropics would be of interest here, even if the movie isn't.
From what I can tell, the movie is about a guy who uses a drug to improve his mental capabilities, uses those to radically alter his life, who is then targeted because its just that genre of movie.
Just a heads up, if anyone is interested.