Caffeine and naps are two separate ways to be more alert and energetic whenever we are tired during day time.
Power naps are a wonderful hack to recharge in a short amount of time, and caffeine is also proven to improve alertness. There is absolutely no doubt about the effectiveness of caffeine and naps — scientifically.
But caffeine naps? Is that even a thing? Can caffeine help you nap better? Can Coffee Give Your Naps A Boost?
Counterintuitive, I know!
How can caffeine help you nap better? Caffeine!! The same substance that is well known to delay and disturb sleep.
Regardless of how it may sound, caffeine nap is a thing. Let’s explore what it is and how it works.
What Is A Caffeine Nap?
Caffeine naps are the naps that you take immediately after drinking coffee or other caffeinated drinks.
Yes — you drink coffee and immediately go to sleep for 20 minutes.
As it turns out, there is science behind it. According to some early studies, napping improves the effectiveness of caffeine, and therefore makes you more alert and energetic when compared to caffeine and naps alone. (1)(2)(3)(4).
How Does Caffeine Nap Work?
To understand this, you will need to understand how caffeine works in brief.
Caffeine works by blocking the adenosine receptors in our brains. Adenosine is the metabolic byproduct that is produced throughout the day.
It is this adenosine that makes us feel tired and tells our brain to go to sleep (along with our circadian rhythm). It helps our brain know when to go to sleep by binding with its receptor — the adenosine receptors.
When we drink caffeine, it reaches our brain via the circulation. There it block these adenosine receptors. This makes the receptors unavailable for the adenosine to bind with.
No adenosine binding to the receptors — no tiredness and sleepiness. As a result, your alertness and grogginess improves — at least for some time.
So, this is the role of caffeine in caffeine nap — to make you more alert.
But what about the napping part?
Naps and adenosine
Now, adenosine is cleared from our system while we sleep, including when we take a nap. So, napping reduces the amount of adenosine present in our system.
Again, the less amount of adenosine present in the system, the less sleepy and tired you will feel— by reducing the amount of adenosine.
This is how naps can help you compensate for any lost nighttime sleep during day time.
So, What Happens When You Combine Caffeine With Naps?
Caffeine takes about 20–30 minutes to get absorbed from the gut and enter the circulation (peaks at around 60 minutes).
You drink caffeine, and while it’s going through your gastrointestinal system, you take a nap. Napping clears out some of the adenosine collection, creating less competition for the caffeine to fight for the receptor.
By the time you wake up from nap, caffeine comes into action as it reaches the brain and binds with the receptors.
With less adenosine, more receptors are available for caffeine to bind with, which means more caffeine bind with the receptors, and therefore you feel more energetic and awake.
This is how coffee naps make you more alert than napping and caffeine alone, as you are combining the effects of both.
What Are The Benefits Of Caffeine Naps?
The early studies indicate that coffee naps are better than normal naps. As described above, a coffee nap will make you more alert and awake when compared to coffee or napping alone. Additionally, caffeine also boosts mood.
It can help reduce sleep inertia.
Sleep inertia is the scientific term for the grogginess or disorientation you experience immediately after waking up. It is mostly experienced by those who work in shifts (i.e. irregular sleep schedule) or when you don’t get enough sleep.
Sleep inertia is believed to be caused by high amounts of adenosine. As mentioned earlier, naps helps reduce this adenosine accumulated in the system.
Also, caffeine, as per studies, helps counter the disorientation and cognitive deficit that comes from sleep inertia as well.
So, if it’s one of those days when you couldn’t get a good night’s sleep, you can go for a caffeine nap during the daytime. Doing this may give you better results.
What Do Studies Say About Coffee Naps?
- A study was conducted with 10 participants in 5 different experimental conditions: 200 mg caffeine intake followed by a nap, a nap followed by bright light exposure for 1 min, a nap followed by a face wash, no nap, and resting without sleep. This study found that caffeine intake followed by a nap was best to combat daytime sleepiness and showed better performance levels after the nap when compared with other experimental conditions.
- A study on night shift workers found that participants who consumed 200 mg of caffeine followed by a 30-minute nap had better attention and less fatigue compared to the placebo group that consumed decaf coffee before the nap. This study indicates caffeine naps may be beneficial in reducing sleep inertia (in addition to improved attention).
- Another study done on night shift workers in both laboratory settings (63 participants) and field settings (53 participants) showed similar results.
- A study on 12 sleepy drivers found that consumption of 200 mg caffeine followed by a nap reduced driving incidents and mid-afternoon sleepiness (subjective and as observed with EEG), compared to naps and caffeine intake alone.
- Yet another study on 10 sleepy drivers with 150 mg of caffeine intake followed by a 15 minute nap displayed the same results.
- Lastly, a study done on 24 healthy adults also found caffeine naps improve performance and vigilance during 24 hours of sleep loss more than caffeine and naps alone (which are also effective but the combination is better).
We certainly need larger studies to know more about caffeine naps. However, these multiple smaller studies show positive results.
What You Should Know Before Attempting A Coffee Nap?
There are a few things that you should keep in mind about caffeine or coffee naps. They are as follows:
1. Caffeine can potentially disturb your night-time sleep.
If you attempt to take caffeine naps too close to bedtime, you may experience difficulty falling asleep.
Studies suggest that caffeine can disrupt sleep even when taken 6 hours before bedtime.
So, the minimum gap that you must keep between your caffeine nap and bedtime should be more than 6 hours. Ideally, it should be 8 hours.
2. Coffee naps may not be for everyone.
Firstly, if you are a caffeine-sensitive individual — i.e. if you experience anxiety, tremors and palpitations etc, when you drink caffeinated drinks, you should avoid caffeine and caffeine naps.
Secondly, not everyone can fall asleep quickly. Some people have a longer sleep latency (the time you take to fall asleep). If you fall under this category of people, you may experience difficulty falling asleep quickly after the drink.
Thirdly, avoid caffeine in the following situations:
- If you are pregnant.
- If caffeine is one of your migraine triggers.
- If you have anxiety and you quickly get anxious with caffeine consumption.
- If you suffer from sleep disorders like insomnia.
- If you have any heart issues like arrhythmias.
- If you are on any medications or supplements, make sure you talk to your doctor about its interaction with caffeine.
3. The duration of the nap should not be more than 20–30 minutes.
The reason is, after about 30–40 minutes you begin to enter deeper stages of sleep. It’s difficult to wake up from the deeper stages of sleep — if you wake up in the middle of the cycle.
Also, when you do manage to wake up without completing the deeper phases of sleep, you will experience very strong sleep inertia.
So, we don’t want to enter the deeper stages as that would be counterproductive. We want to wake up during the lighter stages of sleep.
4. Drink the coffee quickly.
To attempt a coffee nap, you have to drink coffee in as little time as possible so that you can have more time to nap.
If you take 20 minutes to finish the cup, some amount of caffeine would’ve entered your circulation and you won’t be able to fall asleep then.
Plan ahead, let the cup cool down a bit, and drink the caffeinated drink quickly.
5. Go for unsweetened coffee or caffeinated beverage.
Sugar is known to disturb sleep. As sugar is very readily absorbed in the system, it can likely hinder sleep onset.
6. Do not stress about falling asleep.
Don’t worry about falling asleep. As per studies, coffee naps work even if you are half asleep.
So, What You Should Remember About Caffeine Naps?
Although larger studies would be ideal to know exactly how effective coffee nap is over coffee and naps alone, initial studies show positive results that they do increase alertness more than caffeine and naps separately. (1)(2)(3)(4)
It is definitely something you can attempt to do at home (or work) safely, and it’s worth giving a try.
Be sure to remember to keep the recommended amount of gap between your caffeine naps and bedtime.
Upper safe limit of caffeine is 400mg per day, as per FDA (About 4 cups — but may vary depending on cup size and amount used per cup).
Caffeine is a psychoactive substance, capable of inducing anxiety, tremors, and palpitations. So, make sure you don’t drink too much caffeine during the day to avoid these symptoms and to prevent sleep disturbances.
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