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Caffeine Naps – Are They The Most Energizing Naps?

Mug of coffee

The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Read our full medical disclaimer.

We all know that short naps can make us feel refreshed and that coffee can give us an energy boost when we need it. Research shows that it is a lot more effective if you combine the two – consume some caffeine and take a short nap straight away. You’ll wake up just in time when the caffeine kicks in and you’ll already be partly refreshed by the nap.

You should still mind your nap time, the amount of caffeine you take in, and the timing of your nap. A caffeine nap can’t make up for the lost nightly rest but it sure can give you a boost on demanding days.

What is a caffeine nap?

A caffeine nap, or coffee nap, is a nap you take as soon as you have coffee or take a caffeine pill. Caffeine helps us feel more alert because it blocks the effect of adenosine (a substance that makes us sleepy).

Adenosine is normally released as a product of our nerve cells. The longer we are awake, the more adenosine surrounds our cells. It binds with nerve cells sending the information that we’re tired and need some rest. Caffeine binds to the same nerve cell receptors and it blocks the information adenosine is sending. Therefore coffee makes us feel rested even though it may not be true at all.

When you sleep the brain clears the substances that make us sleepy, including adenosine, out of the system by shrinking nerve cells and ‘flushing them out’. This is how our brain reboots.

If you don’t sleep enough at night you will not feel completely refreshed because of the remaining adenosine. When we take a nap we feel somewhat refreshed compared to how we felt before the nap.

But with a coffee nap you give your brain the chance to clear out some of the adenosine and let caffeine pick up the rest of the work by blocking out the remaining adenosine. This is why a coffee nap is more powerful than just drinking coffee or just taking a nap.

How long should a coffee nap be?

A coffee nap should be about 15-20 minutes long. It is generally advised to have naps shorter than 30 minutes because during this time we go through the two stages of light sleep.

After 30 minutes the chances are you’ll reach deep sleep (also known as slow-wave sleep or restorative sleep), and if you get woken up from deep sleep you’ll probably be disoriented and will feel a very strong urge to go back to sleep (sleep inertia).

At the same time it takes about 15-20 minutes for caffeine to have an effect, so you’ll wake up just in time for the peak of your energy.

When can I take a coffee nap?

For most of us coffee naps are best for fighting off afternoon sleepiness. Neither drinking coffee nor taking naps is advisable to do when your normal sleep time is close.

Caffeine is proven to disrupt sleep even if taken 6 hours before going to bed, so have that in mind when you plan your coffee naps.

Taking a normal nap too close to bedtime can also delay the onset of your sleep.

If you need to drive at an odd time of the day or need to adjust to a new shift coffee naps are a great choice. Research has shown that they are the best way to suppress sleepiness in drivers.

Exposure to bright light and washing your face just after getting up are also great ways to fight off sleep inertia and regain alertness, but the coffee nap is the absolute leader.

How much caffeine should I take in?

Almost all of the research on coffee naps used the 200mg amount. That’s the amount you can find either in pills or in two cups of coffee.

How much caffeine is in your coffee depends on how you make it and what type of coffee you use. If you take too little caffeine you might not get the most effective results. If you drink too much, like four cups or more, you might start feeling anxious and stressed – this is the effect of excessive caffeine consumption.

Bear in mind that scientists use caffeine in pills when conducting research – the effect of the actual coffee drinks has yet to be tested.

Additional resources

  1. Ribeiro J. A, Sebastião A. M. Caffeine and adenosine. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. 2010. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20164566 Accessed April 1, 2019.
  2. Drake C, Roehrs T, Shambroom J, Roth T. Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 2013. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24235903 Accessed April 1, 2019.
  3. Bonnet M. H, Arand D. L. The use of prophylactic naps and caffeine to maintain performance during a continuous operation. Ergonomics. 1994. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8026448 Accessed April 1, 2019.
  4. Hayashi M, Masuda A, Hori T. The alerting effects of caffeine, bright light and face washing after a short daytime nap. Clinical Neurophysiology. 2003. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14652086 Accessed April 1, 2019.
  5. Schweitzer P. K, Randazzo A. C, et al. Laboratory and field studies of naps and caffeine as practical countermeasures for sleep-wake problems associated with night work. Sleep. 2006. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16453980 Accessed April 1, 2019.

The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Read our full medical disclaimer.

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