Coffee Nap!

One of the really great and really tough things about working from home is that…well, you’re at home. With all your stuff and your chores and your bed reminding you that if you’re really that tired you could just go take a nice long nap.

Because I’m trying to fit a full-time workload into a 7 hour school day rather than a 9 hour full-time work day, I tend to try to push through the yawns, even though I know my focus and efficiency take a nose dive when I’m that sleepy.

Like many of the caffeine-dependent, my morning (and afternoon and evening) coffee or tea tends to simply make me mostly functional and stave off the withdrawal headaches. I don’t get a lovely energetic buzz unless I consume truly huge amounts—and then I’m frequently jittery and easily distracted instead of focused.

And then I discovered the coffee nap! I know, it sounds counterintuitive to guzzle some coffee and then try to sleep for 20 minutes, but I’ve had great success with it so far. I’ve only used it a handful of times because I’m trying to save it for when I really need it, but I’ve found it to be remarkably flexible and always helpful.

After a coffee nap, I wake up alert but not so jittery that I can’t focus on things. This state lasts for hours—always at least 5, sometimes as many as 8. And somehow, once I remember what it feels like to be really awake and focused (such a rare feeling for the past 14 years), it’s an easier state to find again for the next few days. So one coffee nap can help me for the better part of a week.

I know everyone’s different, so your mileage may vary, but here are a few things I’ve learned.

  1. You really want to head to your nap as soon as you finish that cup of coffee (or tea or whatever you’re consuming with enough caffeine to affect you). When I did the usual “I’ll go up after I put these dishes in the dishwasher, oh, and I should change the laundry first and did I feed the cat?” I found that I was really ramped up when I was supposed to be relaxing. It still worked, but it was a lot harder to gear down for my nap.
  2. Set a timer for how long you want to sleep. It can be disastrous for your productivity if you fall into a deep sleep, and if you’re worrying about getting up in time, you’ll never relax enough to get the benefit. So set a timer that will wake you up, and put it out of your mind.
  3. You don’t need to fall asleep. I never fall asleep immediately, so I focus on relaxing and trying to clear my mind of stuff. I usually end up dreaming a little in that weird half-awake state, and then the alarm goes off and I get up. But that’s plenty for the coffee nap.
  4. It doesn’t necessarily need to be 20 minutes. I wouldn’t go longer, but 10 or 15 minutes might be plenty for you. When I was roused after about 10 minutes because my mom called, I was pleasantly surprised to realize the nap had still done its job. And sometimes I’m suddenly wide awake before the timer goes off, so I just get up because that’s obviously been enough time.
  5. Anywhere that you can really relax will work just fine for a coffee nap. I prefer to go to my dark bedroom to get rid of distractions, but stretching out on the sofa also works. I don’t have a desk (worst home office ever) so I haven’t attempted a coffee nap while sitting up. If you can really relax with your head on the desk, though, I’ll bet it would work.

I’m not sure I understand the science (if sleep makes caffeine more effective, shouldn’t my morning coffee wake me up more than it does?) but I can’t argue with the results I’m getting from this experiment. I hope that fellow parents and others among the ranks of the sleep-deprived will find it helpful!

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2 Responses to Coffee Nap!

  1. Carl Klutzke says:

    I’ve heard this recommended as well. The science, as I understand it is:
    1. Caffeine takes about 30 minutes to really kick in.
    2. A nap of even just a few minutes will help you feel refreshed, as long as you don’t get too far through the 90-minute cycles our brain sleeps in. (Sleeping for an hour will likely leave you groggier than when you fell asleep.)
    So you’re getting the best of the caffeine and the nap combined.

    I don’t remember if Richard Wiseman specifically addresses this in Night School, but it’s a good read about how we sleep and how to sleep better.

    Man, I wish I could take a coffee nap at my desk right now.

    • ayvalentine says:

      The main thing I don’t understand is why a 20 minute nap is so much more refreshing and helps the caffeine work more effectively than a night’s sleep followed by a cup of coffee. Makes me wonder if I’m sleeping all wrong, which is a possibility.

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