When the dreaded 3 p.m. slump hits and you're stuck staring at your computer screen with heavy eyelids and lagging thoughts, attempts to regain focus can seem futile. You might turn to an afternoon cup of coffee; or, if you're lucky enough to have a bit of free time, maybe even a nap. But have you ever thought of combining the two?
Some people are embracing the refreshing power of both a nap and caffeine by consuming caffeine before they snag a spot on the couch for a much-deserved midday slumber.
Is this innovative phenomenon known as a "coffee nap" or "caffeine nap" the energy hack we've all been missing out on, or is it just unfounded hype? I checked in with sleep experts, looked to clinical research, and even tested the strategy out for myself to get to the bottom of this so-called caffeine nap.
What is a caffeine nap?
"It is thought that consuming coffee rather quickly right before a nap allows individuals to get the benefits of a nap and the benefits of caffeine when waking up from the nap," she shares.
According to Catherine Darley, N.D., founder of The Institute of Naturopathic Sleep Medicine, "The caffeine nap strategy is to find somewhere safe to nap, quickly drink your favorite caffeine source, then take a nap for 20 minutes."
Seems easy enough. But how does it work, exactly? I mean, it's not often that people tell you to drink caffeine right before heading to bed.
How does a coffee nap work?
So, what are the mechanisms behind this coffee power nap? Kogan says it works because of the time it takes for caffeine to kick in. "Because individuals tend to start to feel the impacts of caffeine 20 to 40 minutes after consuming it, they are likely to experience the positive effects of caffeine upon waking up from their nap," she explains.
But it also has to do with how caffeine itself works. As it turns out, caffeine doesn't exactly provide you with energy (not in a technical sense, at least). Rather, it makes you feel more awake by keeping feelings of tiredness away.
Specifically, caffeine works on a molecule called adenosine. According to integrative registered dietitian Whitney Crouch, RDN, CLT, "Consuming caffeine prior to a nap allows 20 to 30 minutes for the caffeine to take effect in the body, while during the nap the brain can get to work clearing out molecules that share the same receptors as caffeine and cause feelings of sleepiness (i.e., adenosine)."*
Which is better, coffee or a nap?
Expert opinions are mixed on whether coffee is better than a nap, or vice versa.
For example, in a small 2020 Chronobiology International study1, researchers found that night-shift workers who consumed coffee with approximately 200 milligrams of caffeine and took a 30-minute caffeine nap in the middle of their shift had improved vigilant attention compared to night workers that received a decaffeinated coffee "placebo" before their 30-minute mid-shift nap. While these results are promising for individuals working a night shift, opposing scientists question whether a caffeine nap is effective or sustainable for folks who work day jobs.
Generally, experts want to ensure you're getting enough quality sleep to begin with and raise concerns that a caffeine nap might interfere with your ability to fall asleep later that night. (Given you work a day job and operate on a typical circadian rhythm, that is.)
"There's not a lot of data on this strategy, but the little there is does suggest it improves performance for a couple of hours," shares Darley. She thinks caffeine naps can be useful but advises only using them when it's not an option to get a full rest.
As a stress and sleep coach, Kogan generally doesn't recommend caffeine naps to her clients since both caffeine consumed later in the day and an afternoon nap can make it harder to sleep at night.
She also warns coffee naps may be especially disadvantageous for those who already struggle to fall asleep at night and those sensitive to caffeine since they may still feel its stimulating effects when turning in for the night.
Ways to increase energy without a caffeine nap.
If you really need that temporary boost in alertness and energy, Kogan recommends you just take a power nap! Twenty minutes or less usually does the trick.
Beyond caffeine naps, there are many other dependable options that can help increase alertness, focus, and energy in a sustainable way to combat the afternoon slump, such as:
- Energizing supplementation: A premium nootropic supplement like mbg's focus+ can help enhance alertness and concentration. With both instant- and sustained-release caffeine from plants (coffee fruit and beans), plus other botanicals powerhouses like ginseng and guarana, focus+ delivers energy that lasts throughout the day so you can avoid the 3 p.m. slump—no nap required!*
- Quality sleep: "Improving sleep quality and quantity is the best long-term strategy for improving energy, alertness, and productivity," Kogan explains. (For information on sleep debt and how it affects your cognitive and whole-body health, check out this article.)
- Balanced eating: Kogan shares that skipping meals and failing to fuel your body with proper brain nutrients will make it more challenging to function cognitively.
- Managing stress: External stressors cause a series of physiological changes that can result in racing thoughts, inattention, and low energy. When it comes to promoting mental clarity, stress management is key.
- Physical activity: According to Kogan, physical activity releases endorphins, which improve mood, enhance cognitive functioning, and reduce stress and muscle tension—all of which result in better sleep at night.
My personal experience with caffeine naps.
After reading about the potential perks of a caffeine nap, I had to try it for myself. Generally speaking, I'm a very sleepy person, and my ability to fall asleep anywhere, at any time has become laughable among my family and friends. Given my so-thought superpower of sleep, I assumed a caffeine nap had the potential to be effective—or, at the very least, easy.
Shortly after lunch, I usually hit a point in my day when I am undeniably groggy and unmotivated. I tend to feel a little down and just want to go to sleep. Upon hitting this afternoon crash, I decided to chug my blueberry-flavored coffee and try out the caffeine nap for myself.
My dog came upstairs with me and took his place at the bottom of my bed. I set the timer for 25 minutes. About 10 minutes later, I added an additional 10 minutes to the timer to give myself a bit more time to fall asleep.
The results: I didn't actually fall asleep. Unfortunately, my sleepy superpower failed me in this moment of need. Lying in bed midday, I felt the caffeine racing through my body and couldn't stop thinking about the time limit and worrying about reviewing the caffeine nap that would never come since my body refused to fall asleep.
In short, the pressure got to me. I can't say it was a complete failure, though! After chugging a cup of coffee and resting for 30 minutes, I do feel a little more refreshed, a little less down, and more capable of tackling the rest of the day.
Was this just the placebo effect, or is there validity to feeling better after not sleeping, but simply resting? One 2Psychophysiology 2study2 supports my refreshed state despite not exactly falling asleep, identifying "non-sleep dozing" during a caffeine nap as effective at suppressing sleepiness, too.
Whether my brain is more focused from simply resting for 30 minutes or my spiraling thoughts inspired the trajectory of this article, I can honestly say it feels a bit easier to think, type, and write. So, who's to say my caffeine nap wasn't successful after all?
Do caffeine naps actually work? It depends on if you are looking for a long-term solution for increasing your energy and attention or if you just need a final push of motivation to finish your assignment.
Whether or not you can fall asleep quickly, you're sensitive to caffeine consumption later in the day, or could use more quality sleep are all factors that determine whether or not the caffeine nap is an effective strategy for you.
If you need a boost of energy and attentiveness in a pinch, putting aside just 30 minutes for a caffeine nap may provide the refreshment you need to finish your day out strong.
However, if it's long-term strategies you seek, smart and plant-driven supplements like mbg's focus+ and taking better care of yourself overall (e.g., getting good sleep, eating balanced meals, properly supporting stress levels, and increasing your daily movement) are the ways to go.*
Josey Murray is a freelance writer focused on inclusive wellness, joyful movement, mental health, and the like. A graduate of Wellesley College, where she studied English and Creative Writing, her work appears in Women’s Health, Cook & Culture, and more. By expressing her own vulnerability, she writes with warmth and empathy to help readers find self-compassion and true wellness that’s sustainable for body, mind, and planet.