The big question:
Does supplementing with caffeine and/or creatine help improve performance in skill-related tasks after an athlete has been deprived of a full night’s rest (7-9hrs)? Or better yet, can creatine and/or caffeine increase brain function in sleep deprived athletes?
Caffeine consumption has been shown to improve brain function (i.e. cognition) in individuals who have been sleep deprived. While caffeine consumption to help improve performance has been fairly well established, creatine has begun to emerge as another method of improving cognitive function following loss of sleep. It is thought that sleep deprivation reduces the concentration of creatine found in the brain, and creatine, once it is converted into phospho-creatine is a major energy source!! So if you don’t get enough sleep, your brain simply doesn’t have the energy to keep up!!
However, it is important to note that while both caffeine and creatine have been shown to help improve brain function following sleep deprivation, if the athlete is also in a caloric deficit, there is an increase in performance errors even with supplementation. So if you are trying to have it all (i.e. running on very little sleep & in a caloric deficit), your performance will suffer regardless.
In this study, sleep deprivation is defined as 3-5hrs of sleep per night whereas optimal, normal sleep is defined as 7-9hrs of sleep.
The study was conducted using men who played professional rugby. To correct for individual variances, the researchers had the men participate in both the 7-9hr and 3-5hr sleeping schedules for a total of 10 weeks. The men were separated into three groups: placebo, caffeine (1 or 5 mg/kg) and creatine (50 or 100mg/kg) supplementation. Researchers put the men through a skills test and also collected saliva to determine concentrations of testosterone and cortisol before each skill trial.
In non-sleep deprived men, supplementation with caffeine and creatine significantly improved performance compared to placebo. In sleep deprived men, the supplementing with caffeine or creatine significantly improved performance, and almost completely returned it back to non-sleep deprived conditions.
In terms of testosterone, 100mg/kg of creatine significantly increased the concentration of testosterone found in the saliva of both non-sleep deprived and sleep deprived men. Conversely, 5mg/kg of caffeine was shown to increase the concentration of cortisol in both non-sleep deprived and sleep deprived men when compared to placebo.
Sleep deprivation significantly decreases performance, especially performance which relies on cognition. Supplementation with either caffeine or creatine was shown to augment the negative effects of sleep deprivation. Although it is not recommended to use creatine and/or caffeine as a permanent substitute for a good night’s rest, the occasional use of these supplements can help increase cognitive performance in athletes who have slept less than 5hrs the night prior. However, to always perform your best…get your rest, kids!
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Cook C, Crewther B, Kilduff L, Drawer S, and Gaviglio C (2011). Skill execution and sleep deprivation: effects of acute caffeine or creatine supplementation – a randomized placebo-controlled trial. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 8 (1) pp: 2