When you’re tired, there are two tried-and-true ways to help yourself stay awake: coffee (or, more generally, caffeine) and naps. What if you could combine these, though, into a super-boost that would help you get through the day (or night)? Coffee naps, as they are called, might not be well-known yet, but research suggests that they are more effective than either just coffee or just a nap. Here’s a look at coffee naps, the research behind them and the potential benefits for you.
What is a Coffee Nap?
A coffee nap is just what it sounds like: a brief nap that’s taken immediately after drinking coffee. In theory, the coffee and nap complement each other in the battle against sleep. To understand how they work together, though, we must look at adenosine, a chemical in the brain.
Adenosine is the primary chemical that induces sleepiness. It builds up in the brain while people are awake. Once it reaches high enough levels, sleepiness kicks in. While sleeping, adenosine levels decrease.
There are two ways to ward off adenosine and its effects: sleep, as already mentioned, and caffeine. Caffeine’s molecular shape is similar to adenosines, and it binds to the same receptors in the brain as adenosine. When caffeine binds with an adenosine receptor, it blocks adenosine from binding with that receptor, thus preventing the chemical from inducing the brain with sleepiness.
Coffee naps try to take advantage of both caffeine’s and sleep’s effects on adenosine. After drinking a cup of coffee, it takes about 20 minutes for caffeine to enter the bloodstream, reach the brain and block adenosine. Taking a power nap during this time depletes the amount of adenosine in the brain, which increases the likelihood that caffeine, and not adenosine, will reach the brain’s receptors.
Keeping the nap to 20 minutes is key, because:
- waking up from a longer nap can be difficult
- caffeine will start having an effect 20 minutes after drinking coffee
- caffeine won’t interfere with sleep during these 20 minutes
Do Coffee Naps Actually Work?
In short, coffee naps work — and they work well. Scientists around the world have observed positive effects when studying coffee naps:
- A study conducted by Loughborough University found that coffee naps improved fatigued drivers’ actions in a driving simulator more than just a nap or just coffee did
- Researchers in Japan found that coffee naps improved memory more than power naps followed by washing participants’ faces
- Scientists in Ohio found that coffee naps were more effect than just coffee or naps over a 24-hour period without prolonged sleep
How Can People Use Coffee Naps?
Taking advantage of a coffee nap is easy. All it requires is coffee and 20 minutes. After quickly drinking a cup of coffee (or shot of espresso), rest for 20 minutes. Even if you don’t fall asleep, the above-cited studies have shown that 15-20 minutes of rest will help immensely. When 20 minutes has passed, get up. You should be refreshed and ready to go. Happy napping.