All for Life
Coffee Naps by Dr Ridwana Timol
A nap in general, is a short, planned period of sleep, outside of our regular night-time sleep schedule, aimed at helping us recuperate from the demands of the working day and re-energise. The aim of a nap is to give us a boost when our energy dips so that we can become more alert and focused. People drink coffee for the same reason. In fact, recently a new concept called Coffee Nap has evolved whereby sleep researchers have found benefits to drinking coffee just before taking a nap. Typically, coffee is a stimulant which remains active and affects our brains for up to 7 hours after it is consumed. Its general effect is contrary to rest – coffee taken at night disrupts deep stages of sleep and prevents us from achieving recuperative sleep even if it does not stop some of us from falling asleep. We can often observe this very subtle but important lightening and disturbance of sleep when we observe people’s sleep objectively using polysomnography (or sleep EEG: gives us information on brain activity, just like ECG gives us information on cardiac activity) in a sleep laboratory.
However, the effect of coffee on the brain is not that straight-forward! There are typically 3 stages to the effect of coffee on how we feel: At first, coffee makes us feel drowsy and relaxed: that’s the best time for a power nap! After a certain period, it starts making us alert and focused: that’s when we can get a lot of work or exercise done faster, if taken in reasonable amounts. Lastly, it lingers in our system preventing rest but without any effect on our productivity: this is when we sometimes feel restless and aimlessly agitated.
During that first stage, if someone takes a nap straight after drinking coffee, the coffee molecules bind to adenosine receptors in our brain and promote rest, a type of rest superior to if you napped without the caffeine in your system. This is called a Coffee Nap. A Coffee Nap is a power nap that helps improve our performance and alertness better than a normal nap or resting without sleep. How to take a Coffee Nap? Drink a small amount of black coffee, without sugar, and have a nap within five minutes of drinking your coffee. Set your alarm for 30 minutes from the time you lie down. If you manage to fall asleep, chances are your coffee and your brain cells will get busy to concoct a rejuvenating recipe for you! Outside of that window however, the effect is lost. The best strategy for rest is to know yourself: if you know that you take time to fall asleep or get anxious and agitated when trying something new, the Coffee Nap is not for you. Traditional naps, not exceeding 30 minutes, are ideal for giving you that midday boost you often need. Longer naps (e.g. 2 hours) tend to disrupt night-time sleep and are counter-productive, especially if you are a light sleeper or are currently suffering from insomnia. Day-time sleep can have health benefits if done properly, however, it is a very poor substitute for night-time sleep. Nothing beats the health benefits of sound, uninterrupted night-time sleep (for adults usually more than 5 hours, ideally 7-8 hours, and preferably before midnight).