If you’re feeling drowsy, you might be torn between drinking some coffee or taking a nap, but what if you found out that doing both was really the best way to go?
Dubbed the “coffee nap,” researchers say drinking a cup of coffee and then immediately taking a brief, 20-mute nap, will result with you feeling more alert and rested than doing either independently. It all has to do with how caffeine crosses into the brain and affects certain receptors intended for adenosine, a chemical that accumulates throughout the day and makes you feel tired.
Caffeine happens to fit into the same brain receptors as adenosine, competing with the natural chemical for these spots. This is why drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages brings on alertness; it’s simply blocking the adensosine in the body from being received. This is also why, as caffeine goes away, that tired feeling returns.
Adding a nap after drinking coffee is the missing link to feeling more rested because of how sleep affects adenosine. Sleeping naturally reduces the levels of adenosine in the brain, as explained by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
“Adenosine is produced by the degradation of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the molecule that serves as the “energy currency” for the body’s various cellular functions,” explains the organization. “The amount of adenosine produced in the brain thus reflects the activity level of its neurons and glial cells. The brain’s intense activity during periods of wakefulness consumes large amounts of ATP and hence causes adenosine to accumulate. The accumulation of adenosine during waking periods is thus associated with the depletion of the ATP reserves stored as glycogen in the brain. The increased adenosine levels trigger non-REM sleep, during which the brain is less active, thus placing it in a recovery phase that is absolutely essential-among other things, to let it rebuild its stores of glycogen.”
So, when you combine sleep and caffeine in a short time period, you first remove the adenosine in the brain before the caffeine has a chance to take effect. When it does hit the central nervous system, the caffeine has less adenosine to compete with, filling in more receptors and making you feel more alert when you wake up.
This also avoids the crash associated with just drinking coffee without a nap; the nap has removed the adenosine that makes you feel drowsy.
“If you can fall asleep in your nap before caffeine does that, when it’s time to wake up, you’re getting the benefits of the caffeine perfectly timed with the nap sleep benefit,” sleep researcher Dr. David Dinges, a professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, told The Huffington Post.
The trick is to make sure you time your coffee nap correctly, indicates a report from Vox. You should drink a cup of coffee and the rest for no longer than 20 minutes. Twenty minutes is the perfect goal; any longer than that and the body will enter the deeper stages of sleep where adenosine removal isn’t as prominent. The twenty-minute mark is also just when the caffeine will be hitting the brain, making it the most advantageous time to utilize the caffeine’s effects.
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