Need a Midday Pick-Me-Up? Consider a ‘Coffee Nap’

Being able to take a coffee nap in the middle of the day just might be the work-from-home focus boost we all need.

Man sleeping in bed with a coffee mug on his nightstand

From hijacking our dreams to triggering poor sleep, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we sleep. But not all the effects are negative.

A new six-week study of 435 adults from three European nations found that people who experienced greater flexibility as a result of relaxed work and social schedules during the pandemic reported an increase in the overall amount of time they slept.

Seth Davis, a certified sleep coach and founder of Sleepably, has observed similar patterns in his own clients. “While many people are sleeping less due to pandemic-related insomnia, others have been sleeping too much,” says Davis. “Daily routines and schedules have been tossed out the window.”

It’s unknown whether all these extra hours of sleep include naps, anecdotally (and anonymously), several colleagues who’ve had the flexibility to work remotely have recently copped to being tempted to sneak in a quick midday siesta between Zoom calls in the same way they might have slipped out of their office for an afternoon cup of joe.

But what if, instead of deciding between sipping or snoozing, we opt to indulge in both? That’s what’s called a coffee nap—also known as a “nappuccino” or a “caff nap”—and it just might be the productivity boost we need.

What, Exactly, Is a Coffee Nap?

Combining coffee and napping may seem like the ultimate oxymoron, but if timed precisely, the two can pack a one-two punch on the brain that results in supercharged alertness. The secret? Caffeine doesn’t kick in right away, so we can sneak in a quick power nap before the buzz hits.

Here’s the thinking behind it: The caffeine in coffee blocks adenosine, a sleep-promoting chemical that builds up throughout the day as a byproduct of brain activity, from binding with receptors in the brain. When we consume coffee to help fend off sleepiness, it takes roughly 15 minutes for the caffeine to reach our small intestines, pass into our bloodstream, and make it to our brains.

Here’s the double whammy: As we sleep, adenosine is naturally removed from the brain. That means that when you drink coffee and then immediately settle in for a nap, the caffeine that hits your brain after 15-20 minutes won’t need to compete with any adenosine to fit into the brain’s receptors. Instead, it will have even more “non-occupied” brain space to fill in and stimulate. As a result, when we wake up at the 20-minute mark, all those “sleepy” chemicals have been replaced by the stimulant, and we’ll feel remarkably alert.

Check out this video from Vox, which illustrates exactly how the coffee napping process plays out:

Do Coffee Naps Actually Enhance Focus?

When it comes to curbing sleepiness and boosting energy levels, has anyone proven that coffee naps are more effective than, say, a cup of coffee or a nap, alone? While the studies have been somewhat limited in terms of sample sizes, early findings do support the added efficacy of coffee naps.

In a 2003 study, Japanese researchers observed 10 young and healthy adults to observe the alertness effects of “caffeine, bright light, and face washing after a short daytime nap.” The participants who consumed 200 mg of caffeine followed by a nap performed significantly higher on computer tasks. What’s more, this increased level of performance continued for one hour after napping.

Another study from 2006 evaluated the effects of napping, caffeine, and napping plus caffeine on the performance and alertness of 53 shift workers. Researchers found that while all three variables improved alertness and performance, the combination of caffeine and napping was the most effective in boosting performance and lowering sleepiness in the people who worked nights.

How to Take a Coffee Nap

The process of taking a coffee nap is fairly straightforward: Drink coffee, go to sleep, wake up feeling rejuvenated. But the correct dosage and timing are critical. If you overdo it, all bets are off that you’ll get good results.

When it comes to dosage, sleep research Jim Horne, Ph.D., emeritus professor of psychophysiology at Loughborough University in Leicestershire, England, recommends consuming a cup of caffeinated coffee containing around 80-100 mg of caffeine (e.g. an 8 oz Starbucks cold brew coffee or a generous teaspoonful of good quality instant coffee granules). Exceeding 150 mg is likely to interfere with nighttime sleep, cautions Dr. Horne.

Not a coffee fan? While you could instead opt for soda or tea, these beverages typically have lower levels of caffeine, so you’ll need to adjust the quantity you consume accordingly to hit the 80-100 mg amount that Dr. Horne suggests. Sweetened sodas and teas can contain copious amounts of sugar, which can be counterproductive.

When trying a coffee nap, keep in mind that this caffeinated drink is not meant for sipping. It’s essential to gulp down the beverage quickly to ensure the caffeine doesn’t start to move through your gastrointestinal tract and enter your bloodstream. If throwing back a hot cup of joe doesn’t sound appealing, consider chugging an iced version instead.

Choosing the Optimal Time for a Coffee Nap

Timing—as it relates to two components of your coffee nap—is everything. As Davis explains, “Naps can help people get a boost of afternoon energy and focus, but it is possible to nap too long. If you nap more than 20 minutes, you risk making it harder to fall asleep at night. A short power nap in the early afternoon should be enough to make you more alert for the rest of your day.”

With those factors in mind, first, consider the time you want to try a coffee nap. Coffee is a stimulant, so you don’t want to snooze too late in the day. One study found that consuming caffeine even six hours before bedtime can negatively upset your body’s natural circadian rhythm and affect sleep quality, so plan accordingly. Dr. Horne recommends timing your nap to what he calls your “afternoon dip,” typically between 2-4 p.m.

Second, as Davis notes, make sure your nap doesn’t exceed 20 minutes. If it extends beyond that, your brain will enter into deeper stages of sleep, and you’ll awake feeling groggy and irritable. That defeats the purpose of the coffee nap, so set an alarm as soon as you’ve downed your drink.

Assuming you follow these exact steps and you quickly settle into a restful state, the adenosine will naturally clear out, opening plenty of space for the caffeine to settle into your brain’s receptors and get to work, leaving you feeling more alert in 20 minutes when you wake up.

So, Should You Try a Coffee Nap?

Though the research on coffee naps is limited, assuming you’re a healthy adult and your doctor has given you the green light for consuming caffeine, there’s little harm in giving a coffee-fueled siesta a shot.

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