Having a Coffee Before a Nap Can Actually Help You Drift Off to Sleep

It seems counterintuitive to recommend coffee before having a nap — especially given how caffeine can muck with your circadian rhythm — but according to a sleep specialist known as “The Sleep Doctor”, it could actually be the secret to a solid afternoon snooze. Colour us shocked.

Clinical psychologist and board-certified sleep specialist Michael J Breus, PhD, calls it the “nap-a-latte,” he said on the mindbodygreen podcast. “This is a caffeine-induced nap.” While having a pre-nap coffee is OK — given it’s generally only 20 to 30 minutes — Breus doesn’t recommend touching it too close to bedtime as it will disrupt your slumber.

In fact, caffeine can still be in your system five to six hours after consumption which means you have to be careful when you consume it during the day. This also means working out when to time your coffee/nap situation, as you don’t want to be drinking coffee or napping too late in the day as your sleep will most definitely suffer that night.

“It turns out that a buildup of something called adenosine in your brain is what makes you feel sleepy,” Breus said. When consumed before a nap, caffeine binds to these adenosine receptors and, according to mbg, “effectively speeds the nerve cell activity back up, which provides a jolt of energy”.

But, to the nerve cells, caffeine and adenosine look the same. Breus explains: “If you look at the molecular structure of adenosine and the molecular structure of caffeine, they’re off by one molecule. The thing that makes us wake up and the thing that makes us go to sleep is literally off by one molecule.”

This means that you can actually trick your nerves into accepting caffeine, which allows you to sleep before the stimulant benefits of the coffee kicks in, which is about 25 minutes before your sleep burns through the adenosine. While it might seem difficult to find this sweet spot, it’s actually pretty easy.

Breus recommends drinking coffee at around 1 pm, then settling down for your power nap (with an alarm set for 25 minutes). This will allow you to reap double the benefits of the caffeine, which should help you drift off while also providing a burst of energy post-nap so you don’t wake up feeling groggy.

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