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with Michael Breus, PhD, ABSM

This blog has now been retired. We appreciate all of the insights that Dr. Breus has provided to the WebMD community.


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Friday, June 26, 2009

Caffeine vs Napping

If a 20-minute nap, a cup of joe, and more shuteye at night were in a cage match, who would win for reducing that classic afternoon “dip”? The answer is: (in order of effectiveness)

  1. Nap,
  2. Caffeine,
  3. Then more nighttime sleep.

A new study just released proves the power of a nap over a jolt of caffeine and even more sleep at night. It’s actually the first such study to look at all three methods for combating the afternoon lull that’s commonly experienced – and which is a very normal physiological response to the body cycling through its natural rhythms during the day.

Just because you feel sleepy at some point in the afternoon doesn’t actually mean you’re sleep deprived. About eight hours after you wake up, the body’s temperature dips a little, triggering that oh-so-annoying drowsiness after lunch and smack dab in the middle of your attempts to focus and get more done in the late afternoon.

Why am I not surprised the nap wins out? For many reasons:

  • Naps refresh you at a cellular level that – sorry, Mr. Joe and Soda – caffeine just can’t do.
  • It’s easier to over-sleep than you think. Biologically, the body doesn’t necessarily need that extra sleep if you force yourself to sleep more at night. And getting sufficient sleep doesn’t mean your body won’t go through the dip regardless; it’s a natural, physiological phenomenon tied more to your circadian rhythm than to your previous night’s sleep and potential sleep debt.
  • Caffeine can wear off (especially if you’re so used to it) whereas the benefits of a nap may charge your battery for a longer period of time. No one gets a “high tolerance” to napping.

I’ve long been an advocate for napping. The best kind? A 20-minute snooze within a 30 minute time period (10 extra minutes to get comfortable and into sleep mode). Or try the Nap-a-latte™, which is the dynamic duo.

But here’s a big caveat: most people would probably choose caffeine over a nap, and ditch the nap entirely. Downing caffeine can be easier, quicker, and socially more acceptable in many ways. Finding a place to nap in the middle of the workday can be a challenge. And studies have also shown that when deciding between a nap and an “attractive wakeful activity,” they choose the activity.

Let’s face it, coffeehouses have multiple buzzes going on. People. Internet. Connectivity. Social interaction. Exchanges of ideas. And tasty treats beyond the joes and javas. Naps tend to be solitary and, dare I say, not as sexy.

But for what it’s worth, hail to the nap.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD, FAASM
The Sleep Doctor™

This article on sleep is also available at Dr. Breus’s official blog, The Insomnia Blog.

Posted by: Michael Breus, PhD, ABSM at 12:58 pm

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