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The Coffee Nap

By Amelia Willson | 3 Minute Read

It’s 3:00 pm and the workday is far from over. But you’re feeling drowsy and longing for a luxurious “daytime doze.”

While many cultures embrace the concept of a mid-day siesta, few of us in the United States can afford to sleep for a couple of hours in the afternoon. (Besides, if you stay down for too long, you wake up with sleep inertia, which takes time to shake off).

“Power naps,” on the other hand, are far more ubiquitous and acceptable in today’s society. (In fact, Ben & Jerry’s, Zappos, Uber and Google offer employees dedicated nap spaces in their headquarters).

Benefits of the Power Nap

A 20-minute afternoon nap offers scientifically-proven benefits including increased cognitive abilities, alertness and memory:

  • According to the National Sleep Foundation, power naps can restore alertness, enhance performance, and reduce mistakes and accidents.
  • A NASA study found that the alertness of tired astronauts and military pilots improved 100% after taking a short, “power nap.”
  • A University of Michigan study found that after waking from a power nap, participants were less impulsive and had greater tolerance for frustration than people who watched an hour long nature documentary instead of sleeping.

Needless to say, many of us employ the power nap—a great way to revitalize your mind and body. But did you know there’s an even better way to both maximize your sleep time and enhance your alertness?

Introducing the “Coffee Nap”

When you down a cup of coffee before heading for sleep, you awake even more refreshed and invigorated.  That’s right, drinking a cup of coffee, followed by a 20-minute nap has been scientifically proven to restore your alertness better than coffee or a nap alone.

Sounds counterintuitive, yet it works due to chemistry and timing.

First off, the nap itself erodes your brain of adenosine, a chemical compound that causes drowsiness, clouds your mind and makes you fuzzy. A nice, 20-minute nap clears out the cobwebs, and adenosine, from your head.

The “One-Two-Punch”

Right about the time you wake up from your nap, with your mind washed clean of adenosine, the caffeine kicks in and gives you that big boost of energy.

Without the nap, the coffee would have to compete with the adenosine and, therefore, not be as effective delivering a hearty jolt of vitality and focus.  However, after a restorative nap wipes out the adenosine, the caffeine hits your “cleansed” brain receptors like a ton of bricks.

Why Do Caffeine Naps Work So Well?

Scientists observing the behavioral and cognitive effectiveness of the coffee nap find that it’s more productive than coffee or naps on their own.

  • One of the first glimpses into the positive effects of the coffee nap originated in University of Britain at Loughborough. Sleep researchers there performed several tests on fatigued drivers. The findings showed that participants that took a driving test after 15-minute coffee nap made fewer mistakes than those who only took a nap or who only drank coffee.

In fact, it was this study that inspired local authorities to recommend the coffee nap in their Highway Code.

  • Researchers in Japan found that people who took a caffeine nap before taking a series of memory tests performed significantly better than those who only took a nap, or took a nap and then either washed their faces or had a bright light flashed in their eyes.
  • In another published study, 24 young men went without proper sleep for a 24-hour period. Half took caffeine naps and performed markedly better on a series of cognition tests than the other half, who napped without taking caffeine beforehand.

How to take a coffee nap

The coffee nap is simple; just follow these steps:

  1. Drink a cup of coffee.
  2. Drink it when you are tired and your body is already primed to go to sleep.
  3. Drink the coffee quickly, to give the caffeine a long window of time to pass through your gastrointestinal tract and into your bloodstream.
  4. Find a dark and cool place to lie down and fall asleep. Use earplugs and a sleep mask to help you stay asleep.
  5. Don’t stress if sleep doesn’t come quickly— even a tranquil “half-nap” can be helpful.
  6. Make sure to wake up within 15-20 minutes, so you don’t enter the deeper stages of sleep. Set your alarm if need be.

SUMMARY:  A 20-minute “power nap” works wonders for revitalizing and rejuvenating your mind. However, a 20-minute “coffee nap” is the ultimate way to reset your system, get a burst of alertness and increase your motor performance. To learn more about napping, check out our larger guide here.

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