Science behind Coffee-Naps: better than coffee or naps alone

Feeling sleepy, and planning to take a quick nap or a cup of coffee to restore your alertness? I think science has a better solution for your midday drowsiness; a coffee-nap!


If you haven’t heard of about it, a coffee nap (a.k.a stimulant nap) is a fairly old concept that has gained some scientific attention recently. It is simply a 20-minute nap after drinking a cup of coffee (or any other caffeinated beverage/supplement.) Now it is proved to be better at restoring your alertness and re-energising you as compared to the traditional 30-minute nap, or a cup of coffee.


It may sound unconventional and even counter intuitive, that something like caffeine which is supposed to earn us a few sleep-less hours, when taken before a 20 minute nap, works better. But it’s actually just simple logic once you understand the science that lies behind it.


Sleep 101

Before getting into how caffeine-naps work, you should first have an idea of how our sleep-system works.


Well, all the blame of you feeling sleepy goes to a neurotransmitter called “adenosine”. Adenosine is the cause of you feeling drowsy and tired. It is created by our body when we are awake, as a by-product of using our internal energy stores. In other words you use energy, get tired and your body builds up adenosine as a consequence of those.


Adenosine then sneaks into your brain and sticks to the adenosine receptors (think of these receptors as some kind of ‘sleep-switches’ which are activated when adenosine sticks to them.) The more adenosine is released, the more receptors get occupied and the more sleepy you get.


But when you sleep, the adenosine starts fading away, (de-activating the switches) naturally. The more their levels fall in your brain, the likely you are to wake up naturally.


How caffeine works

Caffeine (the main component in coffee and tea) looks a lot like adenosine, and binds(sticks) to the adenosine receptors too. In other words, caffeine blocks the way of adenosine to get to the adenosine receptors (think of like caffeine protecting the sleep switches from adenosine.) And if adenosine is not able to bind to adenosine receptors, then there is no way for your brain to know whether you need sleep or not at the moment.

So, if the sleep-switches aren’t activated, your wouldn’t feel sleepy, simple right?

There are many varieties of coffee and teas and some come in powder form and capsules such as The World of Green Maeng Da Kratom


How coffee naps work

Coffee does not just start working right off the bat, in fact it takes it about 20 minutes to get through your small intestines to your blood steam and finally to your brain.

If you take naps casually, you might have noticed that naps longer than 30 minutes are harder to wake up from, and leave you drained and feeling drowsy. That’s because after 30 minutes of sleep most people start going into deep stages of sleep, and the so called “sleep-inertia” builds up.

When you drink a cup of coffee prior to taking a 20 minute nap, you are exploiting the brain’s sleep-system to enhance the effects of your coffee. This works because while you nap your brain clears up some of the adenosine, and right before diving into deep-sleep stages, (which are harder to wake up from) you wake up. Leaving former-filled adenosine receptors to get binded by caffeine. This enhances the effect of caffeine in coffee as compared to independent consumption of coffee.


What experiments show

A study done by researchers at Loughborough university in the U.K, found out that sleepy participants who were made to take a 15 minute coffee-nap, made fewer errors in a driving simulator, compared to the ones who took a regular nap, coffee, or a placebo.

In another 1994 study, 24 men were kept awake for 24 hours with only four hours of prior sleep, and two short naps in between. Twelve men who were given caffeine before their naps scored roughly the same as their baseline score. While the other twelve who only took naps, scored below their baseline score. Interestingly the group which caffeine napped, was able to maintain performance at very close to baseline levels throughout the 24 hour period.

That’s not all, there is even more evidence which shows that coffee naps are better than normal naps. To test one’s memory skills, a Japanese study was conducted. In the study the participants who took a caffeine nap scored higher than those who either took a nap only, or were exposed to light for a minute after a nap, or were made to wash their faces after a nap, or no nap.

Note: The amount of caffeine consumed by the participants in the above mentioned studies, ranges from 150 mg to 200mg.


How to take a coffee nap

Step 1 : Get caffeinated

Taking a coffee nap is pretty simple. First you have to get yourself a cup of coffee, or some other caffeinated beverage, or you can take caffeine pills too.

Now as to the question that how much caffeine you need, well, the amount of caffeine used in the studies was about 200 mg, but you can experiment with different amounts of caffeine to see what works best for you.

Make sure you drink your coffee quickly. Because you would want to be sleeping in those precious few minutes, before the caffeine kicks in.


Step 2: Set Alarm

Now it is really important that you wake up after about 15–20 minutes (before the caffeine kicks in, or you go to deep-sleep stages) thus you should set an alarm or request someone to wake you up after 20 minutes.


Step 3: Nap

First find some sweet comfortable spot, with less noise, so you can fall asleep easily. But even if you can not fall asleep, going into that tranquil half-asleep stage works just fine.

References and Further reads: