Are coffee or naps better?

Before college I never had a problem staying awake during the day. I would, for the most part, have a bunch of energy, the thought of sleeping never even occurred to me and I did not even like coffee much. Then came the craziness of college. We wake up for an 8 am, have classes throughout the day, eat lunch, more classes, maybe go to the gym, eat dinner, have a club meeting, then are studying for the rest of the night until 2 am. Then you have to wake up and do it all over again, it’s exhausting. Who wouldn’t take time to sleep if they could it’s not like were getting enough at night. Or why wouldn’t you get a cup of coffee in the morning, afternoon, and night like I sometimes do. My question, though is what is more effective for you: taking that mid day nap or downing three cups of coffee throughout the day?

The National Sleep Foundation gives a couple benefits of napping. Short naps lasting about twenty to thirty minutes are the most effective. This will provide alertness and not leave you with that grogginess if you had just waken up from a three hour nap. It will simply put you in a state where you are relax and will rejuvenate you for the rest of the day (hopefully.) The again what if you are out all day and simply do not have time to even sit down, let alone take a nap. This is where coffee comes in handy. Just stop on the way to class and grab a quick cup and go on with your day.

Here is the article I am going to be referencing in the next paragraph. It compares naps and caffeine and even gives a study to support their decision. The 61 participants chosen at UC San Diego were put through a series of cognitive tasks emphasizing verbal memory, motor skills, and perceptual learning to detect if taking naps or drinking caffeine is more effective to get you through the day. The verbal test included a memorization of a list of words, the motor skills test was tapping sequences on a keyboard, and the perpetual tests was picking targets with a background. They were fed lunch then an hour later were split up into two different groups: the nap group or the caffeine group. The people in the nap group took a ninety minute nap while the caffeine group listened to a tape during this time. When the nappers were awake, the caffeine group was split (unknowingly) in half again, giving one half a caffeine pill and the other a placebo. An hour later they were tested on the same tests again.

The results were that the nappers won! Although the people that got the caffeine pills were more alert before the test, the nappers performed the best on the verbal and motor test. In the motor skills, the placebo and nappers’ scores improved, while the caffeine group dropped. Basically both naps and caffeine are going to keep you alert but our alertness is not the same as improved memory, learning, or performance. Only naps will be able to help with that.

In that above study I believe it was affective. I don’t, however, understand why they used both a caffeine pill and a placebo. I am not sure what the placebo’s purpose was. Maybe to differentiate between both the caffeine and naps to see if these were really effective? I do think it was good that they measure the participants’ cognitive abilities before and after the experiment to make sure there was actually a change and people were not just messing around. It is interesting that even the placebo itself was increasing people’s scores more than the caffeine.

In another study, they argued that neither caffeine or naps separately were effective and that people should be taking “coffee naps.” A coffee nap is when you drink a cup of coffee and then take a nap immediately after. Most question this because everyone knows that caffeine interferes with sleep, right? Well, apparently, not if it is right before you take a nap. You must make sure that they nap is 20 minutes or less, though. Caffeine technically takes 20 minutes to kick in and hit the brain. So if you take a nap during these 20 minutes than you can expect ultimate alertness. There have been studies to support all of this data. One study looked at ten participants after riding for an hour in a car stimulus. Some took a nap or were given a caffeine placebo, while others were to take a coffee nap. The participants that took the coffee nap had fewer driving errors when they had to take another hour long car trip after. Another study states that caffeine naps can actually help you throughout a long period of time. A study done on 24 participants started when they could not sleep for 24 hours instead of taking a few short naps. After this period, half the men were given a caffeine pill and the other half was given a placebo. After this they took a nap. The half that took the placebo scored worse than their original baseline test while the other half that got the caffeine stayed the same.

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If comparing these two studies, I would say if you are going for improved cognitive skills, take a short nap. Although the “coffee nap” seems effective, it stated that cognitive skills did not drop, but simply stayed the same. Simply drinking caffeine can help too in keeping you awake but just not for extreme amounts of time.

2 thoughts on “Are coffee or naps better?

  1. Marcella Santos

    I really think this article depicts some really good info from other sources and gives three good resolutions. I’ve never heard of a coffee nap and am honestly willing to try anything to give me more energy throughout the day. I either find myself taking tons of naps or I’m drinking 3-4 iced coffees just to get me through the day so hearing about a new solution which brings both together is something I’m willing to try. I’ll have to try it! This post is really interesting and is something many… many penn state students go through.

  2. Kendall Nicole Higgins

    What an interesting correlation! Like you, I never drank coffee in high school, but freshman year of college that all changed. Now I drink it practically daily, and it seems like most of my friends do too. I never take naps, but that could be because of all the coffee I am drinking. It’s interesting that the first study by the National Sleep Foundation said sleep helps. Is it possible they would be bias? The second study found different results. We would need to study more studies to come to a conclusion.

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