CAFFEINE and napping have something in common. Both make you feel alert and can enhance your performance, whether that’s driving, working or studying.
But some people are convinced that drinking a coffee before a nap gives you an extra zap of energy when you wake up.
How could that be? Is there any evidence to back the power of these so-called coffee naps? Or are we better off getting a good night’s sleep?
Here, in a piece for The Conversation, Chin Moi Chow, a sleep and wellbeing researcher from the University of Sydney, explains all.
If you don’t get enough sleep, you incur what researchers call a sleep debt.
You can build up a sleep debt without realising it, on purpose or when you feel you have no other option, like to meet work or other deadlines.
Taking a nap is a common way of overcoming your sleepiness and repaying your sleep debt.
Drinking coffee can also help us get through the day. And since the 1990s, researchers have been studying how combining the two might help.
In a 1997 study, 12 sleep-deprived people drank the equivalent of one large cup of brewed coffee and five minutes later had the chance to nap for 15 minutes. They then did some driving tests in a simulator to check their alertness.
Although drinking a coffee (without a nap) helped their driving performance, combining caffeine with a nap (a coffee nap) improved it even further. People who took a coffee nap were less likely to drift out of their lanes on a two hour monotonous simulated drive. This was compared to when they just drank a coffee (and had no nap) or when they had a decaffeinated coffee (and without a nap).
A coffee nap even helped performance if people dozed during their nap time rather than falling into a deeper sleep. A coffee nap also reduced sleepiness once people got up, with people remaining alert for a couple of hours. However, this early, small study raised many questions.
For instance, we don’t know how much coffee the people in the study were used to drinking or if they were what researchers call caffeine-naive and so more likely to experience a greater caffeine ‘hit’.
While there’s evidence that coffee naps work, are they safe? If we consider caffeine consumption, doses of 300-500mg a day (equivalent to 2-3 large cups of brewed coffee) seem safe, as about 70 per cent of caffeine is converted into paraxanthine, which has no apparent toxic effects.