What is a Coffee Nap? How Long Should a Coffee Nap Be?
Dr. Nayantara Santhi, PhD
Dr. Nayantara Santhi is an associate professor of psychology at Northumbria University in Newcastle. Santhi’s body of work includes numerous articles on how circadian rhythms regulate an individual’s sleep-wake cycle. Santhi’s articles have also focused on related elements such as bright light exposure and melatonin production.
A coffee nap is exactly what it sounds like—drinking a cup of coffee followed by a short nap to re-energize you for the rest of your day. However, because coffee is also a stimulant, the way you drink coffee before a nap and the nap length are both critical to reap all the benefits.
Research shows that combining coffee with a short nap reduces tiredness and improves alertness. In this article, we’ll discuss the science behind coffee naps and how to take one properly.
Why are Coffee Naps Beneficial?
Adenosine, a neurotransmitter that makes us tired, builds up in the brain throughout the day, leading to drowsiness. A short power nap allows the adenosine to break down, making room for caffeine molecules, which must cross the blood-brain barrier and attach to brain cell receptors to take effect. In short, napping naturally and safely releases adenosine from brain cell receptors, and then the caffeine kicks in.
The Science Behind Coffee Naps
Scientific evidence shows coffee naps improve work performance and help adults avoid grogginess upon waking. One study examined the impact that a coffee nap had on drowsy drivers. Sleepy participants took a 30-minute coffee nap or consumed 200 mg of caffeine before getting behind the wheel of a simulator for a driving test. Scientists found a 9 percent driving error by the coffee nap group and a 34 percent driving error in the caffeine group.
“We have now spent over 70 years trying to influence our sleep and wake via the adenosine system,” says Dr. Nayantara Santhi. “In this coffee has played a big role. This is because caffeine is a potent adenosine receptor antagonist.”
“How to effectively use coffee to increase the effectiveness of a nap is an ongoing area of research. What we do know is that the appropriate nap length and caffeine amount may help reduce the grogginess one feels upon awakening from sleep.”
Who Shouldn’t Take Coffee Naps?
While coffee naps are beneficial, they aren’t for everyone. Below, are some factors to consider when deciding whether you should try a coffee nap. Keep in mind that high amounts of caffeine can have negative side effects. No one should consume more than 400 milligrams of caffeine per day.
- Children, Teens, & the Elderly: Teens or young children should not take coffee naps, because it can harm their developing brains. For older individuals, coffee can negatively impact existing health conditions.
- Sleepers with Certain Health Conditions: People with heart problems, anxiety, muscle tremors, depression, and asthma can experience negative side effects if they consume high amounts of caffeine. Pregnant women should also limit caffeine consumption, as high levels of caffeine can have an adverse impact on the developing fetus.
- Night Shift Workers: Keep your sleep and work schedules in mind when employing coffee naps. Those who work at night will need to be mindful of the timing of their coffee nap, so they don’t have issues falling asleep later. Coffee naps should be taken at least 6 hours before you plan to go to bed.
When Are Coffee Naps Appropriate?
So, when is a good time to take a coffee nap? Many people take coffee naps during a short break at work or before heading out on a long road trip. For many, early afternoon is when they find themselves experiencing sleepiness that can be solved by a coffee nap. If you didn’t sleep well the night before, a coffee nap can also be taken first thing in the morning.
How to Take a Coffee Nap
To prepare for your coffee nap, consume 200 milligrams of caffeine. Black coffee must be brewed and consumed promptly to experience the full benefits of a coffee nap, otherwise, the caffeine will be released slowly into your body and the benefits will be delayed.
Next, find a comfortable and calm environment for your coffee nap and set a 20-minute timer. Napping can be done sitting or lying down, but we recommend lying down to avoid neck pain.
Sugary soda cannot be drunk in place of coffee. If you do not like the taste of black coffee, you can opt for a different caffeinated beverage with the same caffeine content—for example, tea or a sugar-free energy drink.
How Long is a Coffee Nap?
A 20-minute nap is the ideal length of nap time to get the most benefits without waking up feeling groggy or disoriented, and you should take the coffee nap at least 6 hours before bedtime. Coffee naps that are too long or too short will not effectively increase your energy and alertness—instead, they will have the opposite effect.
Can coffee disrupt my sleep schedule?
Yes, if consumed too close to bedtime, coffee can hurt both your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Coffee can also interrupt your internal body clock, making you feel like you need to be awake and alert when you should be winding down to go to sleep.
Cut off all coffee and caffeine consumption at least 6 hours before bedtime to avoid disrupting your circadian rhythm.
Are coffee naps bad for you?
Coffee naps are not bad for you unless you have a sensitivity to caffeine or a health condition that prohibits caffeine consumption. Coffee naps provide an energy boost when you’re in a time pinch. Some people even find coffee makes them sleepy, helping them drift off for a nap.
Why do I wake up mad after a nap?
Naps that last longer than 20 minutes can cause you to fall into a deep state of sleep, interrupting your body’s normal sleep cycle and leaving you with a high level of melatonin still in your body. The presence of melatonin in your body leads to sleep inertia and feeling mad after a nap. Avoid waking up mad after a nap by limiting your nap time.
Is it better to nap or stay up when you’re tired?
When it comes to feeling rested, too little sleep is still better than none at all. Taking a coffee nap is the best solution when you’re tired and want to take a nap.
Because coffee naps are short, they allow you to get all the benefits that you would from a long nap without any of the drawbacks. Plus, you still get to enjoy your regular serving of coffee or caffeine.
Why are coffee naps better than other naps?
Coffee naps are better than long 1 to 2-hour naps because they prevent you from falling into a deep sleep. They also promote the fast release of caffeine throughout your body, allowing you to raise your energy levels quickly. Just make sure you’re not taking a coffee nap too late in the day, as the caffeine might affect how well you sleep at night.
Scientific research supports the energizing benefits of coffee naps, which work to reduce sleep inertia. To get the most out of your coffee nap you’ll need to consume 200 milligrams of caffeine quickly and then take a 20-minute nap.
Remember—those with caffeine sensitivities or health conditions should consult a doctor about their caffeine consumption and possibly avoid caffeine naps altogether. It’s also essential to take a coffee nap relatively early in your daily schedule, as caffeine can affect your sleep at night.