What's a coffee nap?
If you're like me, sleep and its sidekick, grogginess, are your worst enemies. All this time, I've been using coffee in a daily fight against the Sandman only to find out I'm totally wrong. It turns out that in moments of sleepiness, the best jolt of energy will come from not just sleep or coffee, but a hybrid of both — the coffee nap.
The next time you're tired, try drinking coffee and then taking a nap. If you think we're joking, listen hard. It's common knowledge that caffeine intake interferes with sleep. There is, though, a period of time in between when you drink coffee and when its caffeine content begins to affect you. Here's what happens after you drink coffee:
- You drink the coffee
- The caffeine makes its way through your small intestine
- The caffeine takes its sweet time passing through your bloodstream
- At long last, the caffeine reaches your brain
All in all, it takes around twenty minutes for your coffee to finally kick in. That's twenty whole minutes of suffering through the grogginess. Grogginess comes from a molecule in your brain called adenosine, and adenosine is a by-product of brain activity. So, as you continue through your day, adenosine builds up, plugging into receptors in your brain, and slowing down your neurons. This signals your brain to make you feel tired and fatigued.
Caffeine molecules actually look a whole lot like adenosine and will plug into the same receptors as adenosine. Once the caffeine has joined with that receptor, it actually blocks any adenosine from plugging in. Caffeine doesn't necessarily wake you up, but it does keep your brain from slowing down.
So, if you spend those twenty minutes after drinking coffee unconscious, you'll wake up feeling totally great. The great thing about coffee naps is that sleep naturally clears out adenosine. When the adenosine is cleared out, the caffeine doesn't need to compete with anything to plug into those receptors.
While there aren't a huge number of studies out there to prove it, there are a couple:
- When participants in one study took a 15-min coffee nap, they committed fewer errors in a driving simulator than when they only drink coffee or took a nap.
- A Japanese study showed that those who took a caffeine nap performed better on a series of memory tests.
The coffee nap is all about timing. Drinking the coffee quickly (try an espresso or cold brew) and napping for only twenty minutes is key. Any longer and your brain enters a state of sleep inertia — making you more tired than before because you start to enter deeper stages of sleep.
So ends an epic battle of coffee vs. sleep. Will you try the coffee nap?