There’s been much discussion over the years about smart drugs, adults taking medication intended for treating ADHD to keep them more alert, and students using them to stay awake as they prepare for exams.
New research however suggests you might be better off actually having a sleep. Or a cup of coffee – or both if you want to power nap (caffeine takes about 20 minutes to affect you so a quick coffee followed by a 20 minute power nap and when you wake up the caffeine has kicked in). Or a run in the park.
But back to the medication. The two commonest smart drugs used are methylphenidate (or Ritalin) and modafinil and the latest evidence suggests that they are over-rated when it comes to enhancing overall cognitive performance.
Researchers at Oxford University compared the results of experiments examining the effectiveness of smart drugs, coffee, and non-pharmaceutical interventions such as sleeping and exercise.
Ritalin was found to improve memory consolidation but not necessarily retrieval. It had no affect on improving attention and in the highest performers actually impaired their cognitive function. (Imagine what it’s doing to kids given this stuff).
Modafinil is used to treat narcolepsy and sleep problems and is said to be used by business people travelling across time zones so they are alert when they arrive at their destination. It was found to improve attention but not memory.
Caffeine helped to sustain attention but only on simple tasks.
Sleep however had a positive effect with even short spells of 6 minutes improving some brain functions.
Bouts of exercise helped speed of learning, episodic memory and long-term memory with the effects lasting up to two days.
So what’s your preference? Self-medicating on drugs designed for other purposes or taking more exercise and getting a good night’s sleep?
See earlier post on this topic