You are using the caffeine in the coffee and its absorption rate, to cycle through a rest and waking cycle really fast. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Feeling drained? Ditch the coffee and the nap – try the coffee nap instead!

This surprising strategy, backed by science, is said to be more effective than either option alone for boosting alertness.

Here's the trick: Grab a cup of coffee, then take a quick 20-minute nap. The caffeine kicks in right as you wake up, leaving you feeling refreshed and energised. So next time you're feeling sluggish, give the coffee nap a try – it might just be your new secret weapon against fatigue!

How does a coffee nap work?

In order to understand the science behind a coffee nap, you need to first understand how caffeine affects your brain.

According to Helen Boise, a British Dubai-based nutritionist, once caffeine is ingested, it is absorbed through your small intestine and passes into your bloodstream. It crosses into your brain. “Over here, it fits into receptors that are normally filled by a similarly shaped molecule called adenosine,” she explains. For the unversed, adenosine is a chemical that promotes sleep. It accumulates in certain areas of the brain, and within the brain, it acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter. When there are high levels of adenosine, it floods the receptors and you feel tired. However, caffeine, competes with adenosine to fill the receptors.

As the caffeine latches on to those receptors, it blocks the adenosine from building up. So, when you wake up from a nap, the caffeine has more receptors to bind to, leading to increased alertness and energy levels, explains Boise.

So, when you have a coffee nap, the adenosine is naturally cleared from the brain. If you sleep for more than 15 to 20 minutes, the brain will enter the deeper stages of sleep, which takes time to recover from, she says. However, the quick nap doesn’t lead to this kind of sleep inertia. “It takes around 20 minutes for the caffeine to enter your gastrointestinal tract and bloodstream anyway,” she says.

When there are high levels of adenosine, it floods the gut receptors and you feel tired. However, caffeine, competes with adenosine to fill the receptors. Image Credit: Shutterstock

So, when you nap for those brief 20 minutes, your adenosine levels will be reduced just in time for the caffeine to make headway. Moreover, as there is less adenosine, the caffeine will help you in being more alert.

What research says

There has been much research on the efficiency of a coffee nap. In a study titled Suppression of sleepiness in drivers: Combination of caffeine with a short nap, published in the US-based National Library of Medicine, researchers at Loughborough University in the United Kingdom found that when exhausted participants took a 15-minute coffee nap, they went on to commit fewer errors in a driving simulator. However, the results were drastically different when they were given only coffee or only took a nap, or given a decaf placebo. They had trouble falling asleep, or just lay in bed half asleep during the 15 minutes.

In a 2003 study conducted in Japan titled The alerting effects of caffeine, bright light and face washing after a short daytime nap, it was found that people who took a caffeine nap before taking a series of memory tests, performed much better than those who just took a nap, or those who washed their faces. There is also research that caffeine naps enable people to go for long periods without sleep, according to Boise. In one study, 24 young men did not sleep properly for 24 hours and took only short naps. Twelve of them received a placebo, and they performed worse on a series of cognition tests, compared with their baseline scores. On the other hand, those who took caffeine before their naps, managed higher scores.

To do or not do a coffee nap?

Person sleeping
Drinking coffee is also an efficient way of boosting your energy. It just requires one quick cup of coffee, a nap, and you’re ready to go. Image Credit: Shutterstock

While brief naps do have a place of their own, the coffee naps have been said to be even more effective in boosting performance and night-time alertness. While there is still research being done on this, the results appear promising. “It has been shown to improve wakefulness and can fight drowsiness,” says Sanchi Singh an Abu Dhabi-based clinical dietician. There are studies that are being undertaken to prove that coffee naps can enhance cognitive, physical performances, problem-solving and mental clarity, she adds.

“It’s also an efficient way of boosting your energy. It just requires one quick cup of coffee, a nap, and you’re ready to go,” she says. However, she does warn: It’s not a magical solution and can even lead to disorientation, sometimes, which hinders learning. Excessive caffeine intake can even result in restlessness, anxiety, and further disrupt sleep, too.

However, Shoni Alimchandani Shah a Dubai-based health and a functional medicine coach finds there are far more natural methods to gain energy, than a coffee nap. "Coffee naps are there for quick fixes, including that clarity and feeling re-energised," she says, believing that one must aim to incorporate lifestyle modifications into their lives, including managing stress and their sleep patterns that have a beneficial impact on the body. She also notes that coffee is rather addictive, and these naps can help you only so far. "I feel there are other ways that we can look after ourselves, with whole foods and managing stress, which affects our health," she says.

Coffee naps are there for quick fixes, including that clarity and feeling re-energised. However, one must aim to incorporate lifestyle modifications into their lives in the long run, like managing stress, sleep patterns that have a far more beneficial impact on the body...

- Shoni Alimchandani Shah, health and functional medicine coach

Speaking more about stress, she says that people need to address the levels of cortisol first, in order to get a certain sense of clarity. "We need to find that balance, and that's how we can boost ourselves forward," she says. 

Here is how you can take a beneficial coffee nap:

Black coffee, without sugar or milk

Both the experts advise that if you must have a coffee nap, drop the milk and sugar and opt for plain black coffee. Dairy might upset your digestion and sugar can increase your blood glucose and energy level, which is just counter-productive. “Consume your coffee quickly, rather than sipping it, so that the caffeine is absorbed into the system quickly,” says Boise.

Nap for 20 minutes

Keep an alarm for 20 minutes, so you are still in a lighter sleep stage. You won’t feel groggy. If you sleep beyond 20 minutes, there are higher chances of you falling into deep sleep, says Singh. So as a result, you wake up feeling drowsy and disoriented, leading to a state of sleep inertia. So, 20 minutes is the best option, as the caffeine enters your brain, and rids your mind off drowsiness and gives you a boost.

Nap immediately

Don’t procrastinate after your coffee. Get to sleep immediately, says Boise. However, Singh does add don’t get stressed if you are unable to fall asleep immediately. Fall into a meditative state, calm your mind mind, and slow your breath. This will still get you the results of a good coffee nap.

Consider your daytime schedule

Afternoon naps are always the best time. So, time your coffee naps at least 8 hours before bed-time, say the experts.