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This or That: Is Coffee More Energising or a Mid-day Nap?

Thanks to their energy-boosting properties, both caffeine and sleep are research-backed ways of increasing productivity levels and getting over that exhausting afternoon slump. But is a coffee break better than a power nap? Or is it the other way round? Let’s put them to the test.

By Adarsh Soni
02 Feb 2022

If you're feeling tired and want to get yourself out of that lazy rut that one often falls into post lunch, you either brew a strong espresso or reach for your pillow, well, if you’re working from home of course. But did you ever stop to think what exactly leads to this afternoon slump? You might have a flawless sleep schedule but despite cashing in on those eight hours, an afternoon slump is inevitable. Most of the time it’s not due to sleep deprivation or physical exhaustion, but due to a natural process that our bodies go through. About eight hours after you wake up, the body's temperature dips a little. This ultimately leads to that drowsy phase where all you want to do is give up and fall asleep once again.


Related Story: 7 Science-Backed Ways to Get Over the Afternoon Slump


Now coming back to the different ways of getting out of this tiring phase, caffeine and naps are lifesavers. At their core, both of them work by targeting a certain neurotransmitter that our brain produces. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have their own differences.


If you look at the larger picture, naps have a lot of advantages over drinking coffee. They work on a deeper level, boost your brain’s learning capacity, improve alertness while also improving cognitive abilities. But not everyone has the luxury of setting aside an hour during the day to indulge in a refreshing nap. That’s why drinking a cup of coffee remains the most popular way of staying alert and focused. The effects might not last as long as a nap, but it’s definitely the easier choice, no matter how you look at it.


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Coffee Nap
1. Having a cup of coffee provides instant relief from drowsiness. A study by Dr Petey W Mumford, School of Kinesiology, Auburn University, Australia, states that caffeine increases subjective energy levels, while reducing feelings of fatigue. 1. Taking a nap might not be as instant as drinking a cup of coffee, but its benefits go way beyond. According to a study by Dr Stoyan Dimitrov, Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology, University of Tübingen, Germany, taking a nap can accelerate cell repair—particularly that of the immunity-boosting T-cells.
2. Caffeine is good for making you feel more physically awake and keeping you attentive. 2. Some studies suggest that an hour-long nap can mimic the effects of a full night’s sleep in terms of storing information.
3. According to a study by Dr Christopher J Derry, Pain Research and Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Oxford, U.K, caffeine improves the absorption of pain relievers and can help with a headache. 3. They may provide relief from minor headaches but are also known to induce headaches.
4. The study by Dr Dr Petey W Mumford also found that caffeine is known to boost endurance and speed. 4. A 2019 study by Dr James N Cousin, Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience, Singapore, found that naps are known to improve memory and reduce fatigue.
5. The effects of caffeine can wear off—especially if you're so used to it. 5. The benefits of a nap last longer than a cup of coffee. Unlike caffeine, no one gets a high tolerance to napping.
6. Caffeine blocks the receptors of a neurotransmitter called adenosine. Adenosine is a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep and plays a role in cognition. 6. Naps are also known to reduce the level of adenosine in the brain.
7. Downing caffeine can be easier, quicker, and socially more acceptable in many ways. 7. Taking a nap can be tricky and time consuming. They might not be socially acceptable in formal settings.


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The Verdict

Caffeine and naps are both effective ways of getting over that sluggish period in the afternoon when you can’t seem to get anything done. But both of them have their own pros and cons. If you’re looking for a quick fix to boost your productivity levels then there’s nothing better than a cup of coffee. But if you want something that rejuvenates you on a deeper level, then you should get into the habit of taking a quick nap every afternoon.


Now that you’re familiar with the benefits of these fatigue-busting mediums, what if we told you that you could somehow pick their best part? It might sound silly at first, but coffee-naps are a real thing and apparently very popular on the internet. For most of us, coffee and sleep are polar opposites that work in completely different ways. So the thought of somehow combining the two to one’s benefit might seem impossible. But science suggests otherwise.


And upon closer inspection, you’ll realise that it actually makes sense. If you caffeinate immediately before napping and sleep for 30 minutes or less, you can benefit from the effects of both caffeine and sleep and maximise your brain’s ability to stay alert. In the end, it all comes down to a neurotransmitter named adenosine.


According to a study by Dr L A Reyner, Sleep Research Laboratory, Loughborough University, Leicestershire, UK, sleeping naturally gets rid of adenosine from your system, while caffeine is also known to block adenosine receptors. If you drink coffee immediately before taking a nap, then those 30 minutes are enough for caffeine to work its way into your system. So if you nap for those 30 minutes, your body will naturally reduce your levels of adenosine just in time for the caffeine to kick in. The caffeine will have less adenosine to compete with, and will thereby be even more effective in making you alert.


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