Caffeinized Napping

It has nothing to do with any twinge of conscience about my coffee intake, but I’m always intrigued by the latest research on caffeine. I’m also always looking for whatever weapons I can find to defend the ancient habit of taking an afternoon snooze.

When I see a headline containing the phrase “coffee nap,” my heart skips a little beat.

Turns out that drinking coffee before a nap is a better pick-me-up than either coffee or napping by itself.

It has to do with adenosine, explains Joseph Stromberg at Vox.com. Adenosine makes us feel tired, but caffeine fits into and blocks receptors that are normally filled with adenosine. One scientist says that caffeine is like a “block of wood under one of the brain’s primary brake pedals.” But caffeine has to compete with adenosine for those spots on the receptors, as if, to continue the driving analogy, both are looking for parking spaces in an overcrowded city.

Sleep also has an effect on adenosine – it clears it away, making us feel alert again. But if you sleep too long and too deeply, then you end up feeling like a slug, and it takes some time for the next cup of coffee to revive you.

Stromberg says the solution is elegant, as all great ideas are: Drink a cup of coffee first, and “if you nap for those 20 minutes, you’ll 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.”

For all I know or care, that may be completely bogus. Adenosine may be as mythical as the Lock Ness monster. But I’m going to keep that in my back pocket and whip it out next time someone asks me why I’m heating a cup of coffee just before pushing back the recliner. 

And I’ll nap happily, knowing that two of the world’s greatest joys – coffee and napping – aren’t enemies but allies.


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