Caffeine and academic performance

Oftentimes as students prepare for exams, they might find themselves not sleeping as much and using caffeine on exam day.

One study looked at whether this would help or not.

What was the study? (1)

  • Stepan and colleagues (1), had 276 participants do a  place keeping task (UNRAVEL) and a vigilant attention task (the Psychomotor Vigilance Task [PVT].
  • They were then randomly assigned to either stay awake overnight in the laboratory or sleep at home. (1)
  • In the morning, participants who slept returned to the lab, and all participants consumed a capsule that contained either 200 mg of caffeine or placebo (1).
  • After the caffeine absorption period, they had participants repeat those tasks.

What were the results? (1)

  • Investigators (1) found that caffeine helped both groups maintain attention; similar to other studies (2).
  • Caffeine DID NOT reduce place keeping errors in either group (1).

What does this mean? (1)

According to this study (1), if you are sleep deprived, caffeine may help you stay awake but may NOT help with academic performance.

What are some caveats?

  • Caffeine can also worsen anxiety for some people, which might not help with academic performance.
  • This is a small study and further study is needed to verify the results.
  • The benefit size may not be enough for everyone.
  • Individual results may vary.
  • 200mg caffeine may be too much for some people.
  • Getting adequate sleep may be a better strategy

What are some helpful strategies for sleep?

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine suggests the following ways to improve sleep (3):

  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule.
  • Get up at the same time every day, even on weekends or during vacations.
  • Don’t go to bed unless you are sleepy.
  • Other strategies:

What are some helpful resources for sleep?

By Ryan S Patel DO, FAPA

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Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.


  1. Stepan ME, Altmann EM, Fenn KM. Caffeine selectively mitigates cognitive deficits caused by sleep deprivation. J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2021 Sep;47(9):1371-1382. doi: 10.1037/xlm0001023. Epub 2021 May 20. PMID: 34014758.
  2. Killgore WDS, Kamimori GH. Multiple caffeine doses maintain vigilance, attention, complex motor sequence expression, and manual dexterity during 77 hours of total sleep deprivation. Neurobiol Sleep Circadian Rhythms. 2020 May 31;9:100051. doi: 10.1016/j.nbscr.2020.100051. PMID: 33364521; PMCID: PMC7752712.
  4. Patel R. Mental Health For College Students