New research from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago suggests that the best way to use caffeine for sustained alertness may be to drink small, and regularly timed, amounts.

The study also suggests that it is best to begin using caffeine in the middle of the work day. Sixteen subjects were kept awake an extended amount of time — 26 hours or more — and were either given hourly small doses of caffeine (equivalent to two ounces of coffee) or a placebo. Those who received the caffeine performed better on cognitive tests and were less likely to doze off, according to an article in the Bay City Times.

Many workers consume amounts of caffeine that are often too high, resulting in gastrointestinal complications like heartburn and indigestion, says Alex Kerin of Circadian Technologies.

Caffeine also stays in the blood stream for four to five hours, so caffeine that is consumed too near the end of the shift can cause sleep disruption (further enhancing the alertness problems). This clearly has implications for healthcare costs and safety at work, says Kerin.

Employees should be trained to use caffeine effectively, not consume too much, and, as a result of this new research, drink smaller amounts on a regular basis, he says.