*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on MedicalXpress.
The use of prescription stimulants by those without medically diagnosed conditions marks a growing trend among young adults—particularly college students seeking a brain boost. But according to a study led by the University of California, Irvine, taking a non-prescribed psycho-stimulant may slightly improve a person’s short-term focus but impede sleep and mental functions that rely on it—such as working memory.
“Healthy individuals who use psychostimulants for cognitive enhancement may incur unintended costs to cognitive processes that depend on good sleep,” said lead author Lauren Whitehurst, a former graduate student in UCI’s Sleep and Cognition Lab who’s now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, San Francisco. “Our research shows that while psychostimulants may mildly curb natural attentional deterioration across the day, their use also disturbs sleep and post-sleep executive function.”
The study, conducted in the Sleep and Cognition Lab, involved 43 people between 18 and 35 years old. Participants completed working memory and attention tasks before and after taking a psych-stimulant or placebo.
“Our research suggests that the purported enhancement to executive function from psychostimulants in healthy populations may be somewhat exaggerated, as we found only minor daytime improvement in attention and no benefit to working memory,” said co-author Sara Mednick, UCI associate professor of cognitive sciences and director of the campus’s Sleep and Cognition Lab.
“In addition, we noted a large impairment to nighttime sleep, even though the medication was administered in the morning. Psychostimulants also led to detrimental consequences to cognitive functions that rely on good sleep. Thus, people who are taking these drugs to perform better in school or at work may feel as though they are doing better, but our data don’t support this feeling.”
The working memory findings have been published online in Behavioural Brain Research.