What is a Coffee Nap? How Well Does it Work?

People have found a new way to enhance their productiveness and stay alert during the entire day – quick consumption of a caffeine pill, espresso shot or a strong tea, followed by a 10 to 20 minutes long power nap, appears to be a new way to boost your energy and stay productive at work. Learn how coffee naps work and how to properly take one.

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Last Updated: Mon, July 8, 2019

Have you ever thought that a cup of coffee can enhance your nap? It sounds so silly, right? We usually drink coffee to stay awake and avoid naps, or just for the taste, so is this the reverse psychology in action or what? If you are still confused and intrigued by the title, keep reading to find out how is this even possible. 

Different Concepts of “Power Naps”

Some countries in Europe, such as Italy, Spain, and some parts of Croatia, still use the so-called siesta, which is a mid-day break from work, and a lot of shops, restaurants, etc. are closing after lunchtime, and opening again in a few hours. These types of lunch breaks are common in the Meditteranean, tropical, and subtropical countries.

The “time is money” expression, and a different lifestyle here in the US do not allow us to make such breaks in the middle of our work time. Instead, we rely on shorter breaks and power naps since they are more adequate for our work routine. But, some US companies which have a specific concept of working space have separate areas where their employees can sleep and rest, for example, Google and Ben&Jerry’s.

Many people who have regular 9 to 5 jobs know what a struggle it can sometimes be to stay alerted and concentrated, short lunch breaks are necessary because we need to eat, but we also need some time to rest and recharge. Long shifts and stress are a recipe for tiredness and poor judgment, which is not how you want your doctor to work, or any other people who work on some very responsible positions,  because the risk is too high, and mistakes can be very expensive. 

The good news is that a lot of companies are willing to introduce power naps to their employees since it has been proven that even  20 minutes of sleep during the afternoon can enhance alertness, focus, and cognitive abilities. Even NASA conducted a study which proved that their astronauts and pilots had their alertness improved for 100%, after a short nap. Another study showed that after taking a power nap, people were less impulsive, less frustrated, and showed a higher level of tolerance than the people who were watching a documentary about nature for the same amount of time.

So why are these brief sleep breaks so effective? When we start falling asleep, we go through two lighter stages, N1 and N2, but we enter the deep sleep phase only at the N3 stage. During that stage, a reduction in sleep drive occurs, significantly faster than in the first two, lighter sleep stages. 

Generally speaking, it takes some time to get from being alert to relaxed and sleepy enough to enter the stages N1 and N2, and then after the final N3 stage of deep sleep. If a person only has 20 minutes to rest, it would be hard to reach that deep sleep in such a short period of time, but it is not impossible. Waking up from deep sleep is much harder than waking up from some lighter stages, and it is possible that you will wake up feeling groggy and even more tired than you were before. This is known as sleep drunkenness or sleep inertia, and it is not how you want to feel right before you need to go back to your work and be fully alert. The mood is also affected by it; you will be easily irritated, feeling down, which is also not the best thing if you need to interact with your colleagues, customers, or family, soon after your “power nap.” 

Another thing is the fact that deep sleep relieves sleep drive, and by already achieving it once during the afternoon, you may have difficulties with experiencing it again later during the evening, when you go to bed. It is like eating a desert right before dinner, it will ruin your appetite, and you will be full before the main course. That is how a long afternoon break can hinder your sleep, for that reason shorter breaks for rest are more recommended, because they do not leave you enough time to enter the deep sleep phase.

What is a Caffeine Nap?

You have maybe heard of it, caffeine or coffee naps appear to be a new hit among the young business people who do not want to waste their time. It sounds crazy, but people are taking coffee to improve their sleep, and once you get it, it is genius, so let’s jump straight into it. 

So how exactly this works, you drink your coffee, and straight away you go to sleep, right after the consumption of caffeine. That is it; you are no longer drinking it to remain awake; you can take a nap after a cup of your favorite hot beverage. Now the not so fun part about it is the fact that you need to set your alarm clock, and it needs to ring in about 15 to 20 minutes, so no time for oversleeping or counting sheep till you fall asleep, this one needs to be done quickly. 

If you are wondering how much caffeine is recommended, well, usually one or two servings will do the job, in studies which proved the benefits of this concept usually 150 to 20 mg of caffeine were used. To make it more clear, one cup of brewed coffee contains 164 mg of caffeine. The caffeine does not necessarily have to come from coffee, although we are so used to that combo that we forget about other sources of caffeine. You can even drink tea, soda pop, caffeine pills, energy drinks, etc. anything that contains caffeine, but keep in mind that those things do not have the same level of caffeine, and also that your sensitivity to caffeine is determined by the amount you usually consume.

How Does a Coffee Nap Work?

Workers around the world have found a new way to enhance their productiveness and stay entirely alert all the time. Quick consumption of a caffeine pill, espresso shot or a strong tea, followed by a 10 to 20 minutes long power nap, appears to be a new way of an energy booster for working people. The brief rest will remove some of the desire to sleep, which was already on our mind while we were awake, and restore our alertness right before caffeine starts to work, or before it gets to our brain do its magic by sharpening our senses.

Our need to sleep depends on two different processes, circadian alerting signal, and homeostatic sleep drive. Sleep drive means that the longer you are awake, the more you will crave for sleep, and this happens because a particular brain chemical called adenosine starts accumulating. Our body cells use adenosine triphosphate as their main source of energy, what remains after the energy is used is adenosine; hence, the longer we stay awake, the more energy we will use, and more leftover adenosine will start piling up in our brain. 

Sleeping is one way of getting rid of that accumulated adenosine, after a night of good rest, in the morning, the level of it is at its lowest, and as the day progresses, it rises. If you sleep, for example, only four hours in one night, once you wake up you will still be sleepy, because there was not enough time to clear up all adenosine leftovers.

But, there are ways in which even short periods of sleep can reduce the level of accumulated adenosine. When caffeine is combined with a nap, precisely that happens because caffeine alone blocks the adenosine and promotes wakefulness, this is how it works as a stimulant. This combination showed to be highly effective even more than if you just took a nap, or drink a cup of coffee.

The Right Time For Coffee Nap?

Could there ever be a wrong time for coffee or sleep? Not really, but in the adult world, we need to plan and schedule everything in advance, and the same is with our rest time. Generally speaking, you should make this break whenever you feel tired, sleepy, or you need a break from work, and the ones working from home can use this at its best, be careful and try not to oversleep.

So for most people, the wave of afternoon tiredness strikes somewhere from 1 PM to 3 PM, which is, by the way, the time when the above-mentioned siesta break time usually starts, because the early afternoon is also the hottest part of the day for them.

If you do not want to have any problems with your bedtime and want to avoid insomnia symptoms, you should not make your coffee nap later in the afternoon or evening before your desired bedtime. Once the caffeine gets into your system, it is being metabolized by the liver, and it takes around 5 to 6 hours to eliminate half of the amount you have taken, so that is why it is recommended drinking it during the early afternoon, anytime later can hinder your bedtime routine.

Can Coffee Naps Boost Your Energy?

If you are still skeptical about this theory, but you also did not get the chance to try it for yourself, do not worry, researchers have already done their part of the job for you.

Although many are still arguing is it more useful to sleep for 20 minutes, or to combine it with caffeine, a number of small studies were conducted to test this theory.

They were all given 200 mg of caffeine before taking a 15-minute long nap, after that they were placed in a driving simulator for two hours, the results showed that they were 91% less sleepy behind the wheel than the group who did not consume caffeine or went to sleep. This study also concluded that even the participants who were not able to be fully asleep during those 15 minutes still showed some improvement in their energy level.

Other, similar study included ten people who consumed 150 mg of caffeine, and they got less than 15 minutes to rest after it, and right after they were behind the wheel on a driving simulator, and still performed better during those two hours of test-driving than the control group.

Some other small study focused on the performance in computer-related tasks, ten healthy adults took 200 mg of caffeine, and then rested for 20 minutes. Based on the results, this way of rest improved their energy and performance better than a nap itself, or face washing, or even exposing your face to bright light. 

It is essential to mention that the participants of these studies used caffeine pills, so clearly they are very efficient, but it still needs to be proven how useful coffee or strong tea could be in these situations.

Should You Take Coffee Naps?

Since we live in such fast times and have no time to waste, it is not a surprise that people are willing to try whatever is possible to get the maximum out of every 24 hours. There are a lot of different ways to boost your energy, and coffee naps are the latest trend; however, researches are still ongoing since there are many ways in which we can consume caffeine, different products contain different amounts of it, and all of those variations need to be tested in order to be completely sure that this will work every time.

If you are still interested in trying this, pay attention to the type of coffee or beverage you take, and to the amount of caffeine inside of it. The dose of caffeine which was used in most studies is approximately around two cups of coffee. Two coffee cups should, in theory, have the same effect as one caffeine pill, as long as they contain the same dose of caffeine, but the comparison of the impacts of these two is yet to be done. If you prefer your coffee with milk, sugar, or any other added flavors, it could decrease the effectiveness of this caffeine break, so it is better to drink pure black coffee for the needs of this instant restorative break.

Many experts agree that everything up to 400 mg of caffeine per day should be safe for the vast majority, and that is approximately four cups of coffee.

Bear in mind that caffeine is a strong substance and that the excessive intake of it can trigger muscle tremors, anxiety and many other problems, but most importantly, it can significantly disrupt your sleep if you consume it close to your bedtime.

Other Ways To Avoid Sleepiness

Some people simply do not like coffee, they cannot stand it, or their body does not react well to caffeine, so they avoid taking it in any form. For them, a coffee nap is a no-no, so they need other ways to stay focused and energized during the day, and avoid after lunch sleepiness. 

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She would be a morning person if mornings started at noon. Art historian, taurus, coffee lover, traveler, F1 fan who hates to drive, and well experienced insomniac with one life goal, to sleep like a coala for up to 20 hours per day.

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