Power Naps vs. Coffee Breaks: Which is More Effective for Midday Rejuvenation

Power naps and coffee can both perk up your afternoon. Find out where each drowsiness-buster excels and how to see the greatest boost of all.


Feeling tired? When the afternoon slump hits, and it seems impossible to make it through the rest of the day, but you only have 30 minutes to spare, there are two general options: take a power nap or grab a coffee. Both choices can boost your energy and drive away fatigue, but which one is more effective?  
Both power naps and coffee breaks have advantages and disadvantages, meaning the best option will depend on what you’re looking to achieve—and what you’re willing to sacrifice. Let’s see how power naps and coffee stack up.  

Power Naps: Boost Thinking, Strategizing, and Self-Confidence 

A nap can offer many improvements to your day, including boosting your self-confidence, restoring alertness, and enhancing performance. The key, though, is to make it 20 minutes or less. 
Power naps, while short, are mighty. They offer the standard benefits of a nap while avoiding sleep inertia, or the period after a nap where you’re confused and irritable. Sleep inertia can occur if you sleep for too long and start to enter (and are then awoken from) the deeper sleep stages. However, with a power nap, you wake up before those sleep stages take effect, allowing you to wake up alert and not drowsy.  
Still, it’s all too easy to extend your sleep time, which can then produce the opposite effect. Additionally, napping requires time and an adequate location, which may not always be possible with your work.  

Coffee: Increase Alertness and Send Fatigue Packing

Coffee is often the beverage of choice for those who are tired, as it boosts alertness and drives away feelings of tiredness. In addition to these benefits, it can also aid weight loss, improve blood sugar levels, and lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes—it’s a powerful drink.  
Furthermore, it’s a great solution if you have no time to spare. While you’ll likely feel the most mentally recharged if you take a break from work to enjoy your coffee, if you’re pressed for time you can always drink your coffee while working, allowing you to boost your energy as you still tackle your to-do list. You cannot do this if you go the power nap route. 
However, there is such a thing as having too much caffeine. The Federal Drug Administration reports that an intake of less than 400 mg of caffeine each day is safe and is not associated with any harmful effects, but for some people, it’s easy to surpass this. Just drinking 24 ounces of coffee brings you over the threshold, which is the venti size at Starbucks. And that’s just regular coffee; if you drink espresso, you can get more caffeine from less beverage.  
The health hazards of too much caffeine can include high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, nervousness, anxiety, headache, or upset stomach. If you experience these symptoms, working will likely be challenging.  

Which is Better, a Power Nap or a Coffee Break? 

When pitting caffeine against napping to see which is better for memory, it was found that those who napped had a better memory than those who drank caffeinated beverages.  
This study compared caffeine and naps when the participants completed a set of cognitive tasks that emphasized verbal memory (memorizing a list of words), perceptual learning (picking out two targets from a background that made this difficult), and motor skills (tapping fingers on a keyboard in a particular sequence, measuring accuracy and speed).  
The participants were given lunch at noon, and then at 1 p.m., when energy naturally starts to dip, they were assigned to either the caffeine/placebo group or the nap group. The nappers were told to nap (90 minutes max), and the other group listened to an audiobook. At 3 p.m., the caffeine/placebo group was given 200 mg of caffeine (about how much is in an 8 oz cup of coffee) or a placebo. 
At 4 p.m., everyone was tested, and both groups had areas where they excelled.  
The caffeine group felt the most awake and alert, but the napping group outperformed them on the various tasks they had to complete. 
So, which is better, napping or coffee? The answer depends on what you’re hoping to achieve. If you’re looking to boost your alertness, coffee is the way to go. If you want to power through your work, you may be more successful after a nap.  

Why Not Both? Getting the Best of Both Worlds  

Have you ever heard of a coffee nap? It’s a way to combine coffee and a power nap, and research has shown that it can be better than either one on its own.  
In one study, those who took a 15-minute coffee nap had fewer errors in a driving simulator than those who only took a nap or drank a coffee. Even more interesting is that these results were seen even if the participants couldn’t fall asleep and only laid in bed during the 15 minutes.  
Another study testing memory found that those who took a coffee nap outperformed those who only took a nap. Additionally, those who took a coffee nap rated themselves as being less tired.  
These studies show that coffee naps can offer the best of both worlds and boost results greater than either habit individually.  
Interested in taking a coffee nap? Here’s what to do: 

  1. Time it right. When you’re napping, make sure it’s in the afternoon and not too close to bedtime. 1–3 p.m. is usually the sweet spot.
  2. Location, location, location. Find somewhere where you can sleep without interruption. If you can, a dark and quiet room is best.
  3. Drink your coffee. Chug it, don’t sip it—you need to fall asleep before the caffeine kicks in—so an iced drink may be your best bet.
  4. Get to napping. With the coffee downed, immediately set a timer for 20 minutes, relax, and shut your eyes. Even if you can’t fall asleep, relaxing like this will still offer benefits.
  5. Don’t hit snooze. When your timer goes off, get up. If you sleep longer, you’re at risk of sleep inertia, so don’t push it.   

Follow these steps to see the benefits of both power naps and coffee. However, if you lack the time and location for a nap or don’t enjoy coffee, either option can help you make it through the rest of the day.  


Written by

Jessica G

Medical writer freelancer who has written hundreds of articles on varying topics. Masters of Engineering degree in Biomedical Engineering.

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