I’d been growing frustrated by how tired I get in the afternoon. It’s hard to be productive late in the day, and that’s not a good look for a freelance writer. Some of these life hacks probably work, right?
I should say: I initially decided to try the coffee nap challenge as a non-coffee drinker. Coffee was something I ingested sparingly, in the way that some people feel about ice cream and other people feel about kale.
I did not drink soda or energy drinks, and I only rarely consumed tea (peppermint, please). I was not the kind of person who really thought too much about coffee. Mostly, it made my heart speed up, and I didn’t much care for that except on rare occasions.
That said, I needed to stop dragging in the afternoons, and the yoga class I liked met in the evenings. I wanted something else to jolt me into productivity, let me crest into actually filing the pieces I was writing, and ending my lifelong procrastination altogether. A worthy goal, right?
Enter the coffee nap.
Caffeine, for the uninitiated, takes about 20 minutes to kick in. Essentially, you have to drink it, let it pass through your stomach and small intestine, and then it’s released to your bloodstream and finally your brain.
Here’s how it keeps you awake: It blocks a chemical called adenosine, which slows down your brain to make you sleepy. Your body naturally makes this slowdown chemical through the day, until nighttime when there’s enough to put you to sleep. Caffeine jumps in the path of adenosine, saying, essentially, “I got this, let me drive.”
A nap alone will naturally decrease your level of adenosine in your brain and body. But pair that with a shot of caffeine, and you can effectively kick the bulk of your slowdown chemical to the curb.
Again: caffeine takes 20 minutes to kick in. So you nap during that time, and set a timer so you get up before the caffeine takes hold.
Caffeine will ruin your sleep, as anyone can attest who has mistakenly had a regular instead of decaf at dinner. So you have to be smart about this.
Despite my husband’s endorsement, I was skeptical. When I explained my experiment to friends, everyone wanted to know: Does it work? Pseudoscience, I explained, waving my hand away. Of course, I hadn’t done any research. We’ll see what happens. The placebo effect sounded as rational an explanation as any. But it seemed like it could work. I mean, in theory, caffeine was great, and naps were also great. Why not combine them?
So I selected my drug of choice — a cortado. Iced/cold coffee or espresso are recommended if you’d like to give this a try, mostly because it’s important you drink it right away — don’t plan to sip coffee over the course of the morning or it’ll dilute the effects, of course, by kicking in just as you’re ready to nap. I downed my cortado quickly, set my phone’s alarm for 20 minutes, and closed my eyes.
What they don’t tell you is that if you have reflux, you should probably not conduct this experiment. Enter antacid, resume experiment.
I didn’t expect to sleep, but I did. To my surprise, I awoke refreshed and ready to go, feeling like I’d rested for much longer than a quick nap. The 20-minute window is important. There are actual studies about coffee naps that support this.
That said, even if you don’t sleep, that’s okay, too — the important thing is that you rest, even in half-sleep. Once the caffeine hits your bloodstream, you’ll find yourself energized — the nap just takes the edge off.
Though I was suspicious of whether it would work, especially on a non-coffee drinker such as myself, I had a productive afternoon free from distraction after my cortado nap. I emailed my editor about a lingering question that had gone unresolved. I booked a speaking engagement. And I went to the post office, which I certainly otherwise would have put off for another day or three.
I was happy to learn there’s science behind coffee naps, not the pseudoscience I imagined when I first started thinking about them. I don’t try them every day, but it’s good to know that power naps are in my back pocket if I’m on deadline or otherwise need them. The same way other people feel about ice cream … or kale.
I’m not a convert to other fads masquerading as life hacks. Not yet, anyway. But maybe coffee naps will give me the energy to finish KonMari-ing our apartment.