Better Napping Through Coffee
Caffeine helps sleep? Falling asleep with coffee?
If you find yourself tired around midday, you've probably asked yourself whether you're better off with a cup of coffee or a ten to fifteen minute power nap. You might be asking the wrong question. Science suggests the right question is, "Why not both?" As it turns out, a cup of coffee is the perfect way to turbocharge your power nap. At first glance, this seems counterintuitive. After all, who hasn't been kept up 'til two in the morning after an ill-timed double espresso with dinner? But if we dig a bit deeper, there's evidence that coffee and a nap together will do more for your alertness and mental clarity than either would do alone. Here's how it works: Adenosine, a normal byproduct of brain activity, bonds with receptors in your brain to make you feel tired. Caffeine helps to block some of those receptors, but because it doesn't block all of them, you're still going to feel somewhat tired. The "mechanism" of a nap is somewhat different; it tidies up the brain, sweeping away some of the adenosine and making you feel less tired (as long as it's a short nap and you don't enter deeper sleep). And here's why the two working together is a magic combination: when you drink coffee, it takes about twenty minutes for the caffeine to absorb into your bloodstream and make its way to your brain. A short nap, therefore, is sweeping away adenosine and leaving more "room" for the caffeine to bond to the adenosine receptors, and the caffeine is doing its work just as you're coming out of a light sleep. These results have been borne out in controlled scientific studies, wherein some subjects got only coffee, or only a nap; others got a decaf placebo (which borders on cruelty, if you ask us); and another group got regular coffee and a nap. When given cognitive tasks, the coffee-and-a-nap group outperformed their counterparts, and they also reported feeling much better than the other participants who'd been deprived of either the coffee or the nap. The latter measure is a bit more subjective, but the results -- in both cases -- are telling nonetheless. A couple of other findings emerged. For one thing, participants were helped even when they didn't fall fully asleep for the fifteen-minute period. For another, the higher caffeine content of coffee was found to be more effective than the comparatively lower doses found in tea or most sodas. With all that said, what's the best way to take your napuccino? For starters, make sure you have enough time to nap. Drink your coffee quickly. It can be nice to linger over your coffee and savor it, but in this case, time is of the essence. Dawdle over your coffee and the caffeine will be doing its work too early to help you. Next, go to sleep. If you don't sleep, don't fret; even a sleepy or meditative state will be a big help. Finally, wake up within fifteen to twenty minutes (set an alarm to be on the safe side). It really is that simple, and that effective. So the next time you feel droopy in the afternoon, don't despair. Your choices just got much easier. You don't have to choose between a nap and a coffee. You can have both, and now you have the scientific proof to back you up.