Researchers: Coffee naps are the best way to maximize alertness

WASHINGTON — If you’re sleepy, taking a nap or drinking coffee can help refresh and re-energize you. But new research says combining the two into a “coffee nap” can help even more.

Drinking coffee and then taking a 20-minute nap can maximize alertness, researchers say.

It sounds counterintuitive: Coffee’s caffeine keeps you awake. But having caffeine immediately before snoozing for about 20 minutes exploits a loophole in how brains process sleep and caffeine, according to Vox.

It works because it takes about 20 minutes for caffeine from coffee to be absorbed through the small intestines, pass through the bloodstream and get to the brain. And a 20-minute nap is the optimal time for your brain to rest without entering deeper stages of sleep.

Also, napping after drinking coffee clears out a molecule that can inhibit caffeine from being effective.

Does it work?

Scientists have been evaluating coffee naps to see whether they are any better than just taking a nap or just drinking coffee.

Researchers at Loughborough University conducted a study in which some tired participants took a 15-minute coffee nap and then were tested on a driving simulator. The coffee-nap group had fewer errors than those who only napped or only drank coffee.

Another study examined how coffee nappers performed on memory tests. The participants who took coffee naps performed better than those who only drank a cup of Joe, took a nap, washed their face or had a bright light in their eyes.

How to take a coffee nap:

It’s not rocket science, but there is a method to coffee napping.

  • Drink coffee, or another caffeinated drink.
  • One key is to drink it quickly so there is a longer window of time before it reaches your brain.
  • Gulping down hot coffee may be difficult, so iced coffee is always a good option.
  • When the coffee is gone, try immediately to sleep.
  • Even if you’re not able to sleep, resting or reaching a half-sleeping stage is good.
  • Wake up after 20 minutes. Any longer and you risk getting into deeper stages of sleep, which can leave you more tired.

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Sarah Beth Hensley

Sarah Beth Hensley is the Digital News Director at WTOP. She has worked several different roles since she began with WTOP in 2013 and has contributed to award-winning stories and coverage on the website.

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