Working a full-time job can be exhausting and it’s only made worse if you’re working during unconventional hours too. A new study suggests the mythical caffeine nap might be what night shift workers need to stay awake and concentrated.
The study, published in Chronobiology International and conducted by researchers at the University of South Australia, took a look at the age-old strategy anyone facing some serious exhaustion has undertaken at one point in their life — the caffeine nap.
The concept is simple — caffeine takes around 30 minutes for its full effects to kick in so if you drink coffee and take a power nap immediately, in theory, you’ll have a boost of nap and caffeine energy once you awake.
Lead researcher on the study, Dr Stephanie Centofanti, explained this was often used by shift workers who need to be awake at all hours of the night but can sometimes struggle with it.
“As a result, [shift workers] commonly use a range of strategies to try to boost their alertness while on the nightshift, and these can include taking power naps and drinking coffee — yet it’s important to understand that there are disadvantages for both,” Dr Centofanti said in a press release.
“Many workers nap during a night shift because they get so tired. But the downside is that they can experience ‘sleep inertia’ – that grogginess you have just after you wake up – and this can impair their performance and mood for up to an hour after their nap.”
To put the technique to the test, Dr Centofanti and the researchers looked at six adults, giving them all decaffeinated coffee, a placebo, but adding caffeine powder to some. They then took a 30-minute nap and were observed for a number of hours. A week later, the adults returned and were unknowingly given the opposite of the previous week’s dosage.
The results showed those who’d taken the caffeine had improved performance and alertness over those who had taken the placebo.
“Caffeine is also used by many people to stay awake and alert. But again, if you have too much coffee it can harm your overall sleep and health. And, if you use it to perk you up after a nap, it can take a good 20-30 minutes to kick in, so there’s a significant time delay before you feel the desired effect,” Dr Centofanti said.
“A ‘caffeine-nap’ (or ‘caff-nap’) could be a viable alternative – by drinking coffee before taking a nap, shiftworkers can gain the benefits of a 20-30-minute nap then the perk of the caffeine when they wake. It’s a win-win.”
It’s important to note that only six adults were trialled in the small pilot study. The initial results, though from a small selection, suggest the strategy could be quite handy for anyone struggling with overnight shifts or even that 3.30pm slump, but more needs to be done in order to confirm it.
The researchers are looking to expand the study with more people in the future to glean further insights and cement the glorious caffeine nap’s potential importance in our lives once and for all.