An intricate interplay between circadian and sleep-wake homeostatic processes regulate cognitive performance on specific tasks, and individual differences in circadian preference and sleep pressure may contribute to individual differences in distinct neurocognitive functions. Attentional performance appears to be particularly sensitive to time of day modulations and the effects of sleep deprivation. Consistent with the notion that the neuromodulator, adenosine , plays an important role in regulating sleep pressure, pharmacologic and genetic data in animals and humans demonstrate that differences in adenosinergic tone affect sleepiness, arousal and vigilant attention in rested and sleep-deprived states. Caffeine--the most often consumed stimulant in the world--blocks adenosine receptors and normally attenuates the consequences of sleep deprivation on arousal, vigilance, and attention. Nevertheless, caffeine cannot substitute for sleep, and is virtually ineffective in mitigating the impact of severe sleep loss on higher-order cognitive functions. Thus, the available evidence suggests that adenosinergic mechanisms, in particular adenosine A2A receptor-mediated signal transduction, contribute to waking-induced impairments of attentional processes, whereas additional mechanisms must be involved in higher-order cognitive consequences of sleep deprivation. Future investigations should further clarify the exact types of cognitive processes affected by inappropriate sleep. This research will aid in the quest to better understand the role of different brain systems (e.g., adenosine and adenosine receptors) in regulating sleep, and sleep-related subjective state, and cognitive processes. Furthermore, it will provide more detail on the underlying mechanisms of the detrimental effects of extended wakefulness, as well as lead to the development of effective, evidence-based countermeasures against the health consequences of circadian misalignment and chronic sleep restriction.