“There’s nothing quite like the mind-numbing torture of waiting for that afternoon cup of coffee to kick in,” I lamented to a friend over Gchat. I tried to shake myself to the productivity level necessary to type “sorry for the delayed response” over and over for the rest of the afternoon, when my friend’s reply came through. “You need a coffee nap!” A what? I thought, quickly Googling.
For those unfamiliar, a coffee nap is basically a short, strategic rest session. Drink a cup of coffee, snooze for around 20 minutes or so, and wake up naturally when the caffeine kicks in, haze-free and ready to take on the afternoon. Since caffeine takes about a half hour to kick in, you’ll ideally have time to catch a few z’s before the stimulant activates the central nervous system and begins increasing your brain activity.
Intrigued, I set out to find some real-life devotees, and it turns out there are some pretty dedicated coffee nappers out there. One of them is Ali Mirza, who started coffee napping in college when he needed to power through papers on little sleep. “I found that a cup of coffee, followed by 20-40 minutes of shut eye helped me wake up feeling focused,” he says. The 31-year-old senior sales manager has sworn by them since, but came to an even greater appreciation for the power of coffee naps after his daughter was born. “My wife and I would take alternate nights being on call,” he says. “During that time the coffee naps were essential to basic functioning.”
Maureen Ryan, a Chicago social worker, is a more recent coffee nap convert. “I've only been seriously drinking coffee for about two years, and I've been digging the coffee nap since I started, and especially since I started dating my snoring partner,” she says. The 33-year-old will occasionally take a 20-minute coffee nap in her car between home health visits to clients. She sets an alarm as a precaution, but never needs it. “I wake up naturally, and feel refreshed and well-rested,” she says. “I think it makes me more productive.”
Sounds great. But are there any downsides to this? Is the coffee nap actually bound to kill us slowly? I turned to Dr. Carl Bazil, Director of the Division of Epilepsy and Sleep at New York-Presbyterian/ Columbia University Medical Center, for answers.
“The nap is a great idea, if you can get away with it.” Bazil says. “These have been studied and shown to improve productivity, alertness, and memory. Not sure there is any magic to the coffee before; most [people] would wake up anyway but it may help that the coffee is getting into your system by the time you wake up.”
The good news from the doctor is that coffee naps aren’t particularly harmful, but if you find yourself ready to give them a try, Bazil suggests keeping a few things in mind. First, consider the time of day when you’re ready to drink and snooze. “Napping and caffeine can interfere with that night’s sleep, leading to a cycle of insomnia, poor sleep, and increased need for that nap,” Bazil says. “So if you are going to do this, don’t do it too late in the day...’d say definitely before 4 p.m. and ideally before 2 p.m.”
Second, be mindful of the length of your nap. “About 20 minutes is optimal,” Bazil says. “Much longer and you risk developing sleep inertia which leaves you more groggy.” Finally, if you feel like you need a coffee nap every day, stop and rethink your habit. “It might be time to re-evaluate your sleep habits at night, and perhaps even look into the possibility of a sleep disorder,” Bazil says.
So within reason, coffee naps sound like a pretty solid idea. What might present a more complex problem is finding a safe space at the office to conk out away from the boss (I’m currently accepting suggestions). As one coffee napper named Paul put it, “the issue falls more along the lines of this generally not being acceptable public behavior.”