As a Fatigue Fighter, I try to hammer home the message that the only real solution for fatigue is sleep. Just like hunger, fatigue is a sign that your body needs something. To fix hunger, we fulfil the biological need with food. To fix fatigue, we fulfil the biological need with sleep. When we can’t fill the need perfectly, the risk of fatigue increases. With that risk comes impaired performance and reductions in health, productivity and safety.
One proven method of temporarily fighting the fatigue risk is to alter your brain’s chemistry by ingesting a drug like caffeine. Yes, that’s right, I called caffeine a drug even though most regulators still consider it a food product. Make no mistake, it is a drug. It works reliably and effectively to decrease fatigue and increase performance, just like other substances we call drugs…providing it is used correctly as a fatigue management strategy and not as a pleasure source.
Don’t get me wrong here either, I am not advocating for a 24/7 manipulation of our state of consciousness with drugs like caffeine. What I am saying is, that after prioritizing fatigue prevention by focussing on things like sleep health and bio-compatible shift scheduling, we need strategies to fight off any fatigue that surfaces in spite of our best preventative efforts. I call these fatigue fighters countermeasures.
Fatigue Countermeasures: Actions you can take to improve performance and reduce fatigue that you may already be experiencing even if you don’t feel obvious signs of fatigue (e.g., head nods).
The best fatigue countermeasure is to give the body what it needs. In other words, sleep! When you take sleep in an operational setting, it is normally called controlled rest. On-duty napping is not always possible or allowed; for fatigue fighting and performance improvement, the next best fatigue countermeasure is caffeine.
Remember, you can’t skip the fatigue prevention part and just rely on the countermeasures. Countermeasures are to be used as a last defence when operations cannot just stop at the first sign of fatigue. Reliance solely on countermeasures can increase risk. For example, if I skip out on my daytime sleep in favour of taking my dog to the vet or to hang out with friends because I know I can sleep at work or just power back the caffeine when I feel fatigued at work, I have increased the risk of fatigue during the whole time period leading up to the time I can use the fatigue countermeasure. Plus, what happens if I end up not being able to take a nap at work, or my fatigue level is too extreme for caffeine to be effective? Well, now I have increased risk during my personal time AND duty time…not a good outcome.
If the next best fatigue countermeasure is caffeine, you may be thinking of all the different ways to ingest it. Things like coffee, tea, energy drinks and caffeine-infused chocolate are good, but their caffeine is absorbed through the gut, which can take a while. For a fatigue countermeasure to be effective, it needs to be fast acting. Countermeasures are used when you cannot just stop what you are doing and call it quits for the day to get some sleep. They are used to temporarily improve alertness and performance to get you through a safety critical situation. Waiting for the caffeine from an energy drink to work its magic is not always an option. Thankfully, there is a better way to ingest caffeine, rather than absorb it through the gut, absorb it through the mouth and gut by chewing gum infused with caffeine. The biggest increase in blood plasma concentrations of caffeine can occur 20 minutes faster by chewing caffeinated gum compared to methods that rely on absorbing caffeine through the gut like swallowing a caffeine pill and the highest level of caffeine in the blood can occur 40 minutes faster from chewing gum than from caffeine pills.
My favourite fatigue countermeasure chewing gum is the Energy-On-Demand Chewpod . Each piece of gum contains 50 mg of caffeine which is just enough to get me through a post-lunch dip. Studies on the faster action of gum compared to other sources of caffeine looked at the effects of gum containing up to 200 mg of caffeine. Before you go this high, test the effects until you find the right dose for the desired effectiveness. Also be sure to read all these articles before you start using Chewpods:
Here’s how I suggest using Chewpods as a fatigue countermeasure:
- Stop all safety sensitive activities.
- Chew your Chewpod(s) for at least 5 minutes, preferably longer.
- Continue chewing while you wait for the caffeine to reach its maximal blood concentration which can take 45 to 80 minutes.
- Return to your safety sensitive activity no sooner than 15 minutes after starting to chew. Ensure that you are performing at an optimal level before returning to your safety sensitive activity.
- Chew your next fresh Chewpod(s) in about 3 to 4 hours.
- Be sure to factor in your next sleep period by avoiding all caffeine 8 to 12 hours before your next sleep.
- Never exceed 400 mg of caffeine in one dose and preferably across a 24 hour period.
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 For a discussion about the role of sleep in managing fatigue see: Dawson, D., & McCulloch, K. (2005). Managing fatigue: It’s about sleep. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 9, 365-380.
 See 3 Rules for Napping as a Fatigue Countermeasure: https://sleepanddreams.com/?p=4432
 Kamimori, G., Karyekar, C., Otterstetter, R., Cox, D., Balkin, T., Belenky, G., Eddington, N. (2002). The rate of absorption and relative bioavailability of caffeine administered in chewing gum versus capsules to normal healthy volunteers. International Journal of Pharmaceutics, 234, 159-167.