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U.S. Army algorithm tells you how much coffee to drink to remain alert

From selecting the news we read online to helping us find true love on dating websites, algorithms are capable of all kinds of amazing things. But now they might be poised to answer an age-old question that has long plagued humanity: Just how much coffee should you drink in a day in order to operate with maximum alertness? That’s the goal of a new automated optimization algorithm created by researchers working for the U.S. Army. Its purpose is to figure out how much coffee is needed keep people alert when suffering the effects of sleep loss.

“Eighty percent of the U.S. population consumes about two cups of coffee a day, and often more when we feel fatigued and desire an alertness jolt,” Dr. Jaques Reifman, lead researcher on the project, told Digital Trends. “The U.S. Army has developed algorithms that allows service members and the public at large to determine when and how much caffeine to consume so to optimize alertness at the desired times and duration. When we compared the optimization algorithm results against experimental studies, we found that the algorithm improved alertness and decreased caffeine use by as much as 65 percent.”

As noted, the algorithm was able to cut caffeine intake by up to 65 percent, while at the same time increasing alertness by up to 64 percent.

“While this is a dual-use technology, our focus is on improving alertness of our warfighters, who are often challenged with considerable sleep debt,” Reifman said. “Forty percent of [these servicemen and women] sleep less than five hours per night on a consistent basis. In the civilian side, the algorithm has wide applicability for shift workers in the transportation industry, medical caregivers, firefighters, students, [and others.]”

At present, there’s no word on when or if this algorithm will be incorporated into a consumer-facing caffeine strategy app. As major coffee lovers, we’d love to see it, though. After all, our Apple Watches tell us when to stand up and get some exercise. Who wouldn’t also want to be reminded by their wearable device or smartphone that they need to get up and fetch themselves a cup of joe to remain at peak performance?

A paper describing the work was recently published in the Journal of Sleep Research.

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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