Yes, Coffee Naps Really Work. Here’s Why.

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Kevin O’Mara)

I, like many children, hated naps. I remember being put to bed after lunch, only to lie in bed and listen for the calming sound of my mother pouring coffee beans into the grinder, this the holy moment of her day when she was child-free and had a moment to herself. I was so attuned to the sound of those beans falling into the grinder that one time, when she poured some M&Ms into a glass bowl, I apparently shouted from my bedroom, “What are you eating?”

I was a precocious (obnoxious?) little thing. But all to say, that naps really weren’t my thing. I always felt that time could have been better put to use.

That opinion of naps carried over into adulthood. Why would I bother sleeping when there are so many more interesting things to be done?

But then I started doing a lot of reading on the correlation between creativity and efficient work habits and breaks, breaks that sometimes involve sleeping. As it turns out, despite your best intentions, you can’t just work all the time. But working in 90-minute intervals and taking a break in between is a good thing. And so are the occasional power naps. With coffee.

What’s a Coffee Nap?

You may have read a thing or two about coffee naps. The Internet seems to love them because they are about, well, coffee and sleeping. Two of our favorite things.

The gist of a coffee nap is that you drink a cup of coffee, and then take a short nap afterwards, essentially getting some rest before the caffeine kicks in.

The positive impact of 10-20 minute power naps on your brain has been well documented. Add coffee? Even better.

Several scientific studies back up the power of the coffee nap. Why does it work? A power nap helps to rid the brain of adenosine, the thing that makes us drowsy. Caffeine works because it works its way into the receptors where adenosine goes, thereby blocking it and keeping you from feeling drowsy.

Since it takes about 20 minutes for the effects of caffeine to kick in, when you lie down and let yourself relax, you start to get rid of the adenosine naturally, and by the time your alarm goes off, the caffeine is now kicking in and has less adenosine to compete with, making for one super perky afternoon.

Here’s How Coffee Naps Work for Me

While I am not usually not a fan of naps, I myself am all for the occasional coffee nap, made possible by the fact that I work from home where no one is going to judge when I head to bed for 20 minutes. Sleeping on the floor under an office desk with nosy coworkers might be a completely different experience entirely.

My coffee naps usually go something like this:

  • Eat lunch. Make coffee.
  • Pour a cup, pour the leftover stuff in a thermos.
  • Drink one cup of coffee.
  • Head for the bed, put a 20-minute timer on.
  • Lie down for a nap, close my eyes.
  • Start thinking about the to-do list for the rest of the afternoon. Mentally tell myself to shut up and focus on my breathing. Breathe. In. Out. Good, you’re relaxing.
  • Oh! An idea for a new story!
  • Shut up, brain.
  • Breathe. Think of waves. A calm garden. Breathe. In. Out.

Eventually, and sometimes it’s pretty far into the 20 minutes, I fade out, even if it’s just for a short moment. While I never really fall all the way asleep in these 20 minutes (unless I am terribly exhausted), I can tell that my body relaxes in a way that it wouldn’t if I was just sitting up and reading a book.

The alarm goes off and I get up right away, feeling surprisingly refreshed and not in the least bit drowsy.

And the best part? There’s still the rest of that coffee waiting for me in the thermos.

Now, to get to that story idea.

Video by Alexander Merkin for The Kitchn