A coffee nap is just what it sounds like, coffee combined with a nap. It might seem counterintuitive to combine caffeine with sleep. But caffeine followed by a brief nap has been shown to improve alertness and mental acuity in several studies.
For coffee naps to work, both timing and sequence are important. Coffee naps are most beneficial when taken after lunch, sometime during the mid-afternoon. Drinking coffee first, then napping for no more than 20 minutes, is key. Some research has shown that coffee naps may be better for helping people stay awake than just drinking coffee or a nap alone.
We explore how coffee naps work, whether they are effective, and other questions that can help you decide if trying coffee naps is right for you.
How Coffee Naps Work
Coffee naps work by combining the waking effects of caffeine with the restorative aspects of napping.
Caffeine is a well-known stimulant with many health benefits. After one cup of coffee, or about 100 to 200 milligrams of caffeine, many people feel energized with increased alertness. The effects of caffeine typically reach peak levels in the blood within an hour and can last up to six hours. According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day is safe for healthy adults.
Caffeine works by blocking a neurotransmitter called adenosine. Adenosine is a naturally occurring chemical in the body that promotes feelings of sleepiness. Throughout the day, adenosine levels build, signaling the body that it is time to sleep. During sleep, adenosine is cleared from the brain.
Clearing of certain substances from the brain may enable deeper NREM sleep. Studies show that good quality sleep can positively affect decision making, problem solving, attention, and creativity.
Caffeine blocks the function of adenosine and stimulates the brain. With similar molecular structures, adenosine and caffeine fit into the same receptors. A receptor is a molecular structure on the surface of a cell that binds with specific substances or molecules. Each molecule or neurotransmitter relays important information to help the body carry out certain functions, including wakefulness and sleepiness.
Like two athletes jockeying for position, adenosine and caffeine compete for the same receptors in the brain. In order for caffeine to work, the brain first needs to clear receptors of adenosine. This is where a nap comes in.
Napping is a brief period of sleep usually taken sometime during the day. Daytime naps, often called “power naps,” lead to increased alertness and heightened mental sharpness. Researchers have found that the ideal length of a nap is around 20 minutes. Naps longer than 30 minutes can induce deeper sleep and may cause sleep inertia. Sleep inertia is the feeling of disorientation, reduced alertness, and grogginess after waking.
The role of the power nap is to clear the brain of adenosine buildup, allowing caffeine to fit into open receptors. Essentially, the 20-minute power nap clears adenosine just as the effects of caffeine begin to kick in.
Are Coffee Naps Effective?
Coffee naps have been shown to be effective in certain situations. For sleepy drivers who need to revive their alertness and night shift workers who carry out important tasks, caffeine combined with a nap can enhance cognitive and physical performance, problem solving, and mental acuity.
Several studies throughout the 1990s compared how well people performed after a caffeine nap versus taking caffeine or a nap alone. In one study, some participants were instructed to take 200 milligrams of caffeine and then take a nap before being kept awake for a period of 24 hours. Compared to participants who took only a nap, those who had a caffeine nap were better at maintaining alertness, logical reasoning, and performance tests.
Some researchers were particularly concerned with investigating whether caffeine and naps could improve responsiveness and alertness in drivers, as sleepiness is a significant factor in many car crashes.
One study found that those who took 150 milligrams of caffeine or a short nap were less drowsy during a driving simulator test compared to drivers who took a placebo. Drivers who took a break to have caffeine or a nap significantly reduced sleepiness, driving impairments, and electroencephalographic (EEG) activity that indicates drowsiness.
Building on these findings, these same researchers conducted another study that assessed driver performance after a combination of 200 milligrams of caffeine and a 15 minute nap. In a simulated driving test, the caffeine nap significantly reduced the risk of road incidents, even more than caffeine alone.
Night shift workers may also benefit from coffee naps during work hours. One study of night shift workers demonstrated that a combination of napping plus caffeine was the most effective method for improving alertness and performance tests evaluating reaction time, sustained attention, verbal fluency, and other cognitive skills.
More recent studies have investigated whether caffeine and naps can improve the physical performance of athletes, particularly those who are sleep-deprived. Researchers compared the effects of either a 20 minute nap, a moderate amount of caffeine, or a dose of caffeine followed by a nap. Results showed that sleep-deprived athletes who combined caffeine with a nap performed better in sprinting tests than those who had either caffeine or a nap by itself.
How to Take a Coffee Nap
Taking a coffee nap is fairly easy if you can find time to do so in your schedule. Basically, it requires quickly consuming caffeine and then immediately napping for between 15 to 30 minutes, preferably about 20 minutes. Coffee naps should be taken in the afternoon, typically after lunch but not too close to bedtime.
- First, prepare your coffee and nap space. This can be as simple as finding a dark, quiet room with a comfortable chair, but you can even use your car. Anywhere you feel safe where you can block out the daylight and sleep without interruptions will do.
- Next, get a coffee or double shot of espresso. The goal is to drink about 200 milligrams of caffeine, which may be found in a 12-ounce cup of coffee or two shots of espresso. Energy drinks, teas, and colas typically do not have enough caffeine.
- Drink your coffee fairly quickly. Think of downing your coffee rather than leisurely sipping. Your body needs to sleep before any effects of the caffeine kick in. Try iced coffee or espresso if it seems too challenging to drink a large cup of hot coffee quickly.
- After that last drop, set your alarm for 20 minutes and immediately try to sleep. Do not be concerned if sleep does not come quickly. Even a non-sleep dozing state is effective.
- Do not hit the snooze button when your alarm goes off. Sleeping longer than 20 minutes can produce feelings of grogginess and sluggishness.
Frequently Asked Questions About Coffee Naps
How Long Should a Coffee Nap Be?
In total, a coffee nap takes about 25 to 30 minutes. Plan for five minutes or so of prep time to pick your sleep spot, settle in, drink your coffee, and set your alarm. Try to limit napping to around 20 minutes.
Are Coffee Naps Better Than Regular Naps?
When comparing coffee naps with regular naps, some research indicates that coffee naps are better than naps alone. However, in certain situations a regular nap may suffice. Because caffeine produces stimulant effects lasting up to six hours, taking a coffee nap too close to bedtime can cause insomnia and other sleep disturbances.
Coffee can be expensive and is not always readily available. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others and experience unpleasant side effects. Insomnia, restlessness, dizziness, fast heart rate, and anxiety are a few of the more common side effects of too much caffeine.
In some situations, caffeine should be limited or avoided completely. If you have any medical concerns, ask your doctor whether caffeine or caffeinated beverages are safe for you. A variety of conditions may be negatively affected by caffeine, such as:
- Pregnancy or breastfeeding
- Chronic headaches or migraines
- Sleep disorders such as insomnia
- Stress and anxiety
- High blood pressure
- Arrhythmias or irregular heart rhythms
- Stomach ulcers and acid reflux
- Taking certain medications or supplements
- Alcohol consumption
What Is the Best Time of Day for a Coffee Nap?
The best time to take a coffee nap may depend on a person’s daily schedule. For people who work during the day, a coffee nap may be most helpful after lunch, around the middle of the afternoon. It is normal for people to feel an overwhelming urge to sleep after lunch. It gets harder to pay attention and perform routine tasks.
Coffee naps taken during morning hours are too early for most people. Adenosine has not yet had a chance to build up. Evening is too late. Drinking coffee and napping too close to bedtime can impact the ability to fall asleep. Siesta and napping during the mid-afternoon hours may be the perfect time for a coffee nap.
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