Guide to Coffee Naps: The Ultimate Power Up for your Power Naps
When you’re running on empty, and you’re feeling sleepy, what do you turn to – a cup of coffee, or a power nap? Or both?
Do both! It’s called a coffee nap. Yes, really – though caffeine is usually thought to keep you awake, this is the science-backed exception. It’s counterintuitive, but it works. Think of it as a power-up for your power nap.
What is a coffee nap?
There are many health benefits of napping, including enhanced motor skills, better attention, reduced stress and a better mood.
A coffee nap, or caffeine nap (as it is sometimes called) is when you drink a cup of coffee and then take a short nap.
The science behind this is pretty nifty. Adenosine is a chemical which naturally builds up in your brain. When adenosine molecules slot into receptors, it makes you sleepy. Caffeine molecules are similarly shaped to adenosine, so they can block the receptors, having the opposite effect and making us feel more alert. Caffeine can’t block all of them, however. They still have to compete with the adenosine.
Here’s the game changer, though: sleep clears all the adenosine away from your brain. Even a 20-minute nap can do it. A caffeine hit takes about 20 minutes to get into your bloodstream, and the “alerting effect” happens at 30 minutes. So, drink a coffee, clear out the drowsy chemicals in your brain with a quick snooze, and wake up just before the coffee kicks in.
Now the caffeine molecules get the receptors all to themselves – making the effects more powerful.
Studies show coffee naps are better than coffee or naps alone
Scientists have shown that when it comes to coffee and naps, some things are better together. The effects speak for themselves.
Another study in Japan showed that taking a coffee nap before doing memory tests significantly improved performance, better than the group who tried bright light and face washing after waking up, and the subjects also reported less sleepiness.
Some studies even show that coffee naps can help you go without sleep for a long time, with a reduced loss in cognitive performance over 24 hours in one study.
How much caffeine should I drink?
Here’s a quick guide to the mg of caffeine for popular drinks:
Drinking coffee is your best bet here. Energy drinks and caffeinated soft drinks will keep you awake with their bubbles and sugar, and tea doesn’t have nearly as much caffeine as coffee.
We’d recommend going with an espresso shot since time is of the essence. If you take too long to get the caffeine in your system, you’ll miss your 20-minute nap window and defeat the purpose.
How to take the perfect coffee nap
The ideal power nap is 20 minutes, the time it takes to get the benefits of napping without entering a deep sleep. Deep sleep is harder to wake up from, and disrupting it causes that awful groggy feeling, called ‘sleep inertia’.
Even if you’re not good at napping, it’s just as effective to have a half-sleep or just a light doze.
If you have the time, you could take a nap of 90 minutes or a bit longer. That’s how long it takes to complete a full sleep cycle, from light to deep sleep and back again. These naps can be great for you, boosting memory and creativity. But you’d be best off drinking a coffee afterwards if you do this, so it doesn’t interfere with the cycle.
The best time to nap is after lunch, or between 1-3pm when your energy level dips due to lower blood sugar. Find a dark room if possible, or just a sleep mask, and take a quick afternoon siesta.
While there’s no substitute for a good night’s sleep, coffee naps can be very handy in a pinch. And if your boss asks what you’re doing, you can legitimately tell them you’re hacking your productivity.
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