There’s something common between sleep and caffeine. Both make you feel alert and energetic and keep away tiredness. While some people drink coffee to feel energetic, others prefer taking a short nap. And there are others who combine both to get a burst of energy in a short time.
Coffee and naps aren’t supposed to go together. After all, caffeine is supposed to drive away sleep, right? But there’s something called a coffee nap that has gained unprecedented popularity among the urban population. It involves having some coffee and then going for a short, 20-minute nap instantly. When you wake up, you’re supposed to feel energetic and productive for at least two to three hours.
Coffee naps are known to be an instant midday energy boost. They are best to keep you awake when you’re traveling, or rejuvenated when you’re jet lagged. Some people are so convinced that drinking coffee before a nap gives an extra burst of energy that they only nap after drinking some coffee. But how does it work, and is there any scientific evidence to back it?
When we don’t get enough sleep, we incur a sleep debt. This happens for a lot of reasons. Sleep disorders, a busy lifestyle, and other stressors can keep us from getting the right amount of sleep. We often build on sleep debt even without realizing it. Those who get less than seven hours of sleep every night also incur sleep debt. The consequences of sleep debt include excessive daytime sleepiness, fatigue, foggy memory, and lack of productivity. Several people also get into car accidents because they fall asleep at the wheel while driving.
Taking a nap has always been a common method of getting rid of sleepiness and repaying sleep debt. Drinking coffee also does the same. And researchers have been studying the combined effects of the two since the 1990s. In one early study, a group of sleep-deprived people were put through a study, where they had to drink coffee and then nap for 15 minutes. When they woke up, they had to take some driving tests in a simulator to check for alertness. It was found that combining coffee and nap boosted alertness much more than coffee or nap alone. It was also found that those who drank coffee before taking a nap had less chance of dozing off at the wheel and drifting off course. A coffee nap was also found to be most effective for boosting performance only when the nap was kept short.
However, in that early study, it was never mentioned how much coffee the participants had to drink and if they were new to caffeine (in which case they would be more hit by its effects). Therefore, researchers kept studying coffee naps for a better understanding.
To be able to understand better how a coffee nap works, let’s take a look at how caffeine is processed by the body. When coffee is consumed, the caffeine remains in the stomach for a sometime before moving to the small intestine. From the small intestine, the caffeine is absorbed by the body. This process takes roughly 45 minutes. But the alertness-boosting effects of coffee start working much sooner, in about 30 minutes. Therefore, when you drink coffee shortly before taking a nap no longer than 15 minutes, your body experiences the caffeine hit after you wake up. This effect remains for a few hours, making you feel alert and energetic. Caffeine is broken down in the liver, but much of it stays in the blood for at least five hours. It is this effect of the caffeine that powers you after a coffee nap.
On the flipside, a longer nap after drinking coffee could have the reverse effect. If you keep napping when the caffeine kicks in, you enter sleep inertia which is hard to come out from. This leaves you feeling worse and affecting your performance and productivity.
Coffee naps are suitable for people who already drink coffee. If you are not a coffee drinker, caffeine naps may not be right for you, because suddenly beginning to drink coffee may have adverse effects. If you have a sensitive stomach or irritable bowel syndrome, you should skip coffee and try green tea instead. If you’re otherwise sensitive to caffeine- if it gives you jitters and a racing heart – coffee may not be right for you. Ultimately, don’t consume coffee six hours before your normal bedtime. A coffee nap involves a cup of coffee and around a twenty-minute nap, not more.