We typically don’t associate coffee, a well-known stimulant, with sleep. But, for most folks, a cup of joe in the morning helps them feel energized and ready to take on the day.
Though it may seem like a contradiction, coffee and napping may be the next power duo.
Research has unlocked fascinating information into the coffee naps, suggesting that combining caffeine and an afternoon nap could be more effective at making you feel alert than having either individually.
We’ll dive into the science behind this and give you some tips on how to take a coffee nap the right way. If you’ve been looking for an edge at work or school, this could be a game-changer.
What Is a Coffee Nap?
This type of nap involves drinking a cup of coffee and then immediately lying down for 20-minutes. However, you should avoid napping for longer than 20 minutes. Otherwise, you risk going into a deep sleep, which will cause you to feel groggy when you wake up and negate the benefits.
In some cases, though, people may not have access to a 20-minute window during the day. The good news is that additional research into coffee napping suggests that if you’re pressed for time, you could still get benefits with a 15-minute session.
How Does It Work?
While multiple studies promote the effectiveness of catnaps and caffeine, it can feel confusing since many of us are told to avoid caffeine if we’re trying to fall asleep. So, to start, let’s cover how caffeine works.
Adenosine is a neurotransmitter that signals tiredness. As we become more sleepy throughout the day, our adenosine levels increase, but they go back down when we sleep.
Caffeine binds to the same brain receptors as adenosine. So, when we consume this stimulant, the caffeine works to cover up those sleepiness signals in the brain.
When we’re awake, caffeine and adenosine are in direct competition with one another. Therefore, napping clears away the adenosine, making more receptors available for the caffeine.
The caffeine you consume should not prevent you from falling asleep right away either; the compound takes about 15 minutes to go into effect, so you should start feeling alert by the time you wake up.
Need more info? Find out how caffeine affects your sleep here.
How to Take Caffeine Naps
Grab a Cup of Coffee
In preparation for a nap, opt for coffee in its proper form without adding sugar or cream. The sugar can cause an unnatural energy spike and crash later, while cream or milk could interfere with your digestion.
The beverage should also be consumed quickly, so if you prefer to sip, choose an espresso. If you are unsure how much caffeine will provide the optimal result, this study found that 200 milligrams, which equals about one to two cups of coffee, effectively provided an energy boost.
Find a Comfortable Place
You will need a cozy spot to lie down either at home or the office, ideally, one that is cool and dark to help foster tiredness. If you are at school or work in a cubicle, you could nap in your car, or you can try to find a spot in the library or an unused room. Wherever you choose, make sure you will be uninterrupted for the duration of your 20-minute session.
Want to know more? Here are some tips on how to fall asleep anywhere.
Set Your Alarm
Use the alarm on your cell phone and set it for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on how much time you have available. Remember to turn up the volume to avoid oversleeping.
If you have a half-hour or more extended break, do not set your alarm for more than 20 minutes. As mentioned earlier, resting too long runs the risk of waking up groggy because you could enter a deep stage of sleep.
Take Your Nap
Now is your chance to finally lie down and enjoy your nap. If you can’t fall asleep, don’t stress. Even lying there relaxed and lightly dozing could have similar benefits.
After waking up, assess how you feel. If you notice the caffeine and sleep combination leaves you more refreshed, consider encouraging friends or colleagues to try it out. Who knows, your discovery could be the perfect company exercise for the National Day of Napping.
Frequently Asked Questions
What if I'm not good at napping?
For some folks, daytime naps are not an easy task. Despite how tired you may feel, it can be hard to doze off if you have an extra busy or stressful day that has your mind wandering to everything you need to get done. Therefore, you may wonder how to wake yourself up without the help of a caffeine nap.
If you’d prefer not to nap, you can still opt for an early afternoon latte for coffee. Getting outside for a brisk walk can also give you a much-needed energy boost. Plus, exposure to sunlight and exercise can increase your dopamine levels, improving your mood.
When it’s time for lunch or a snack, reach for foods that absorb sugar slowly to help prevent a sugar spike and subsequent crash. Whole grains, high-fiber vegetables, and nuts are all good foods to eat for energy.
When you’re dehydrated, one of the initial symptoms is fatigue. Therefore, a glass of water could help you feel more energized during that afternoon slump.
What time of day is best for a caffeine nap?
Many folks feel more motivated in the morning and usually need something to recharge them when the afternoon rolls around. Even if you’re groggy after waking up, you probably have to get ready for school or work and don’t have the time to rest for an extra 20 minutes.
For those planning to sip and sleep midday, when you rest is equally important because caffeine can stay in your system for up to six hours. Therefore, consuming coffee too late in the day could hinder your ability to fall asleep at bedtime.
To prevent this from happening, schedule out your naptime according to when you go to bed. For example, if your regular bedtime is 9:00 p.m., avoid resting anytime after 3:00 p.m.
What are the benefits?
The most notable benefit is getting a burst of energy in the afternoon. However, this extra energy can translate to additional advantages in your professional and personal life.
At work or school, you’ll have more vitality to help tackle those end-of-the-day assignments and not just power through them. Plus, getting over the afternoon slump opens up opportunities to spend time with co-workers or friends once the day is complete.
Does it have the same effects as power naps?
A power nap is essentially a short nap minus the coffee. Power naps, just like caffeine-fueled ones, should be quick to minimize falling into a deep slumber, which would leave you groggier after waking up.
For some folks, power napping on its own works well. The goal of adding caffeine, though, is to have you feeling even more energized immediately after waking up than a traditional short nap might.
Find Out More: The Types of Naps Explained
Why does coffee make me sleepy?
Although most people consume java to be more alert, there is an interesting perspective that some individuals have noticed about themselves: they’re tired after drinking coffee. So, is it the caffeine that makes you tired, or is there something else going on?
We mentioned above that caffeine works to block adenosine, a chemical that binds to brain receptors to signal tiredness. Although caffeine masks the effects of adenosine, it does not make this chemical go away altogether.
While the caffeine remains in your system, adenosine continues to build up. Then, once the caffeine wears off, the sudden hit of adenosine can cause you to feel sleepy.
Sources and References:
-  Mitsuo Hayashi, Akiko Masuda, Tadao Hori, “The alerting effects of caffeine, bright light and face washing after a short daytime nap”, National Library of Medicine, 2003
-  L. A. Reyner, J.A. Horne, “Suppression of sleepiness in drivers: combination of caffeine with a short nap”, National Library of Medicine, 1997
-  Joaquim A. Ribeiro, Ana M. Sebastião, “Caffeine and adenosine”, National Library of Medicine, 2010
-  “Caffeine: How to Hack It and How to Quit It”, Cleveland Clinic, December 23, 2020
-  M.H. Bonnet, D.L. Arand, “The use of prophylactic naps and caffeine to maintain performance during a continuous operation”, National Library of Medicine, August 30, 2020
-  “9 tips to boost your energy — naturally”, Harvard Health, August 30, 2020
-  Christopher Drake, Timothy Roehrs, John Shambroom, Thomas Roth, “Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed”, National Library of Medicine, 2013
Jill Zwarensteyn is the editor for Sleep Advisor and a certified sleep science coach. She is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.
Based in Los Angeles, she is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring new places around town.
She’s also an avid traveler who has a personal goal of being able to successfully sleep on an airplane someday.