Comparing the benefits of caffeine, naps and placebo on verbal, motor and perceptual memory

Sara C. Mednick, Denise J. Cai, Jennifer Kanady, Sean P.A. Drummond

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


Caffeine, the world's most common psychoactive substance, is used by approximately 90% of North Americans everyday. Little is known, however, about its benefits for memory. Napping has been shown to increase alertness and promote learning on some memory tasks. We directly compared caffeine (200 mg) with napping (60-90 min) and placebo on three distinct memory processes: declarative verbal memory, procedural motor skills, and perceptual learning. In the verbal task, recall and recognition for unassociated words were tested after a 7 h retention period (with a between-session nap or drug intervention). A second, different, word list was administered post-intervention and memory was tested after a 20 min retention period. The non-declarative tasks (finger tapping task (FTT) and texture discrimination task (TDT)) were trained before the intervention and then retested afterwards. Naps enhanced recall of words after a 7 h and 20 min retention interval relative to both caffeine and placebo. Caffeine significantly impaired motor learning compared to placebo and naps. Napping produced robust perceptual learning compared with placebo; however, naps and caffeine were not significantly different. These findings provide evidence of the limited benefits of caffeine for memory improvement compared with napping. We hypothesize that impairment from caffeine may be restricted to tasks that contain explicit information; whereas strictly implicit learning is less compromised.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-86
Number of pages8
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 3 Nov 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Caffeine
  • Declarative
  • Explicit memory
  • Human
  • Implicit memory
  • Napping
  • Placebo
  • Procedural


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