The Science Behind Caffeine Naps

If you thrive on naps and a good cup of coffee, then you may have heard about ‘coffee and nap.’ It may at first glance appear to be counterintuitive, but there’s science behind this concept that you could consider trying out the next time you want to recharge in the afternoon. Rightly known as a caffeine nap, we’ll have a look at why this concept might be the best way to get more out of your nap. You don’t have to take coffee; caffeine pills work just as well.


The concept came about when scientists from the Loughborough University in the UK were trying to find ways to help driver alleviate drowsiness that most experience mid-afternoon. Other techniques they tried taking a break, cold air, napping and taking caffeine separately. While using a driving simulator, the participants’ brain waves got measured, and they found that napping and caffeine made the best combination for improved driving.

Why does it work?

There is, however, a right and wrong way to go about this. It takes the body 20 minutes to respond to caffeine, and that’s about as long as a sufficient nap. During this time, the coffee goes to the gastrointestinal, where it then gets absorbed before it travels to the brain. The rest will leave you feeling revitalized, and you’ll have the added advantage of having the coffee kick in for that extra boost.

How to go about it?

The best time to take a caffeine nap is in the afternoon, where most of us tend to get drowsy after an intense morning and a substantial lunch. Whether it’s your favorite brand of coffee or a supplement, take one and set your alarm for a 15- 20-minute nap. For this to be effective, you may require to take it warm or cool as coffee on either extreme as it will take too long to finish. You don’t want the effects kicking in while you’re still asleep.

You require about 200 mg of caffeine and therefore coke, Pepsi, monster or Redbull won’t be great substitutes given their content is not high enough. You can ask how much caffeine is your drink before making the purchase given some coffee brews doesn’t have sufficiently high quantity. In the same breath, do not put excessive sugar in your cup as a sugar rush will prevent you from sleeping altogether. Only put a moderate enough to help get the drink down your throat. As for a caffeine pill, ensure it’s passed through drug regulatory consultants and that it’s legitimate. You also have to take into account that it takes about an hour for the capsule to be broken down before it can be absorbed into the body- keeping this in mind will help you time when to nap better.

The next step would be finding a cozy place to rest. If you’re at work, an empty meeting room with dim lighting will do. You can also go for an armchair or sofa where there isn’t too much noise. You can opt for put on earplugs or an eye mask, anything that will not distract your power nap. As always, consult with HR about such policies in your workplace to avoid disciplinary action being taken against you. You can look into other options such as sleeping in a car.

Can you sleep longer than 20 minutes?

The short answer is no. There are four stages of the sleep cycle, the fourth one being REM (rapid eye movement) and that is when our dreams occur. The first two stages are characterized by light sleep, and these two stages make for the perfect power nap.

In stage one, when you wake up, you don’t feel as though you’ve slept at all. In phase two, at this point, the brain has shut out all stimuli that it deems non-threatening to allow you to relax into a snooze. During this time, your brain processes knowledge that you’ve acquired during the day. There are also other added benefits, such as increased productivity, memory function, creativity and cognitive function. Most of all, it reduces fatigue, the very thing that had you taking a nap in the first place.

When you sleep for more than 30 minutes, you enter into stage three of sleep known as sleep inertia. Waking up from this deep sleep makes you groggy and end up having slower motor function. You’re also more likely to hit the snooze button and continue sleeping at this stage because the urge to sleep intensifies.

For the most part, naps get viewed as a sign of laziness, and others insist that they don’t work. It is however quite likely that people don’t take power naps; they instead slept for too long and entered into a deep sleep.

What makes you sleepy?

Adenosine is a molecule in the brain that plugs into cells receptors that make you feel tired. These molecules build up during the day and start to slow down your neurons as time goes by. Ingesting caffeine enters those receptors and blocks adenosine from gaining access.

Taking a nap is the fastest way to clear adenosine from the body, that way when you take caffeine; they fit perfectly and don’t have to compete to attach themselves to the receptors.

What happens if you don’t fall asleep immediately?

You can still benefit from being half awake and half asleep during these 20 minutes. Your body is still at rest, and it reduces the sleepiness and fatigue from the body, so you’re equally able to be more productive.

Take away

The best way to ride your brain of adenosine is to have a good night’s sleep, that way you may not require a hack to keep you alert and energetic throughout the day. Although coffee boosts your energy levels in the short term, it is likely to affect your quality of deep sleep when you finally turn in for the night.

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