Residency training in anesthesiology involves care of hospitalized patients and necessitates overnight work, resulting in altered sleep patterns and sleep deprivation. Caffeine consumption is commonly used to improve alertness when fatigued after overnight work, in preparation for the commute home.
We studied the impact of drinking a caffeinated energy drink (160 mg of caffeine) on driving performance in a high-fidelity, virtual reality driving simulator (Virginia Driving Safety Laboratory using the Driver Guidance System) in anesthesiology resident physicians immediately after 6 consecutive night-float shifts. Twenty-six residents participated and were randomized to either consume a caffeinated or noncaffeinated energy drink 60 minutes before the driving simulation session. After a subsequent week of night-float work, residents performed the same driving session (in a crossover fashion) with the opposite intervention. Psychomotor vigilance task (PVT) testing was used to evaluate reaction time and lapses in attention.
After 6 consecutive night-float shifts, anesthesiology residents who consumed a caffeinated energy drink had increased variability in driving for throttle, steering, and speed during the first 10 minutes of open-road driving but proceeded to demonstrate improved driving performance with fewer obstacle collisions (epoch 2: 0.65 vs 0.87; epoch 3: 0.47 vs 0.95; P
= .03) in the final 30 minutes of driving as compared to driving performance after consumption of a noncaffeinated energy drink. Improved driving performance was most apparent during the last 30 minutes of the simulated drive in the caffeinated condition. Mean reaction time between the caffeine and noncaffeine states differed significantly (278.9 ± 29.1 vs 294.0 ± 36.3 milliseconds; P
= .021), while the number of major lapses (0.09 ± 0.43 vs 0.27 ± 0.55; P
= .257) and minor lapses (1.05 ± 1.39 vs 2.05 ± 3.06; P
= .197) was not significantly different.
After consuming a caffeinated energy drink on conclusion of 6 shifts of night-float work, anesthesiology residents had improved control of driving performance variables in a high-fidelity driving simulator, including a significant reduction in collisions as well as slightly faster reaction times.