Should I Drink A Coffee or Take A Nap?

It’s time to answer an age old question: Should I drink a Coffee or take a Nap? 

01 | Coffee Vs Nap

In most cases the winner is going to be a nap. A study was performed comparing two groups of people:

  • One’s that took a 60-90 minute nap
  • And one’s that drank 200mg of caffeine

before performing one of three memory tests. 200mgs of caffeine is roughly equivalent to a tall dark roast from Starbucks. The study found that nappers performed better in the tests of verbal declarative memory and procedural motor skills. Verbal declarative memory is basically the ability to declare memorized facts and an example of procedural memory is knowing how to play a song on the guitar. That same study found that coffee actually negatively influences procedural memory. So someone may play a song worse on the guitar after they had a coffee rather than if they didn’t drink one in the first place. Both nappers and coffee drinkers performed equally well on the test of perceptual learning. The test used for perceptual learning was the Texture Discrimination Test. The Texture Discrimination Test consists of showing subjects patterned textures and then asking them to find any deviations from the pattern. 

02 | Caffeine Nap

But several studies (1, 2) show that drinking coffee right before a nap may actually give you the best of both worlds. This is known as a caffeine nap. Napping clears out adenosine in the brain while the caffeine binds to adenosine receptors. Thus making you feel much more alert than you would had you only took either the nap or the coffee. However, I would only recommend this combo in rare circumstances. 

You see, the more caffeine you drink on a consistent basis the more tolerant you become to the drug. In an attempt to return back to equilibrium, your brain creates more adenosine receptors in response to the consistent drinking of caffeine. Thus, you need more caffeine just to achieve the same results. Take a look at this energy vs time graph in order to get a better understanding. Let’s say this is the net average amount of energy a non-coffee drinker has in the day. Let’s call it the baseline. After consistently drinking caffeine, a coffee drinkers baseline energy drops and coffee is then needed just to return back to normal.  

Therefore, it’s a lot better to take naps when needed, and only take a coffee nap in rare circumstances.  

03 | When Should I Drink Coffee?

So, When is the appropriate time to take a coffee? Essentially when you can’t take a nap or when you strictly want the benefits of coffee. The benefits of coffee are that it improves your mood, makes you more alert, more vigilant, increases the speed with which you can process information, improves reaction time, and improves motor speed. The main time when I would take a coffee are when I’m on a social outing in order to boost mood and alertness. I might also consider taking it before a sport where I may benefit from improved reaction time and improved motor speed. But I almost never take it for studying. 

What do you think? Drink a coffee or take a nap?