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With their powers combined, coffee and naps create a greater sum than their parts.

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You know what they say: It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a single person in possession of a ridiculous amount of work, must be in want of a nap. Or something like that.

Naps are an easy way to recharge during a long day. And, according to the Internet, there’s a way to make them even better: coffee. Just drink a cup before a twenty-minute snooze, and you’ll supposedly wake up even more alert.

For once, this isn’t some fanciful thinking that SciShow’s here to debunk. Coffee naps do seem to be more effective than either coffee or naps alone. It’s thanks to two processes: how your body knows it’s tired, and how it responds to caffeine.

As you go about your day, doing whatever stuff you do, your body is making and breaking down molecules called ATP, or adenosine triphosphate. They’re basically your body’s biochemical energy supply. And when they degrade, they ultimately leave behind a few things, including one key neurotransmitter called adenosine.

Throughout the day, these molecules gradually build up and trigger receptors in your brain that signal to your body that it’s getting tired. Sleeping is kind of like hitting a reset button. During the day, enzymes are breaking down adenosine, but since your body is producing so much of it, it can’t clear it all out.

When you sleep, though, you don’t produce as much adenosine, so it gives those enzymes a chance to catch up. Your overall adenosine levels drop, and fewer receptors are activated in the morning. The reason coffee—or specifically, caffeine—works so well at keeping you awake is because it has a similar shape to adenosine.

So it can slip in and bind to some of those receptors without activating them. This blocks adenosine molecules from reaching their targets, so your brain makes fewer “I’m tired” signals. Now, the coffee nap takes these two processes and smashes them together to make the ultimate, super efficient snooze.

See, once you down that Starbucks, it takes around twenty minutes for the caffeine molecules to travel through your body to your brain. Instead of just sitting around waiting for that to kick in, the idea behind coffee naps is to prepare for a caffeine overload. As you sleep, your brain breaks down adenosine more effectively because it’s not being flooded with so many new molecules.

Then, when the caffeine rushes in twenty minutes later, there are fewer adenosine molecules for it to compete with. The caffeine has a better chance at claiming those receptors before the adenosine can increase again and start making you all sleepy. Most people recommend only a twenty-minute coffee nap because you probably won’t go into a deep sleep, which can be harder to wake up from.

So far, scientists haven’t done studies to see how many adenosine receptors are affected by this method. But multiple papers have shown that coffee naps made participants better at things like memory tests or driving simulations, compared to coffee or naps alone. At the end of the day, nothing really beats a full night of sleep.

But coffee naps will do for an afternoon pick-me-up. Now, you just need to convince your boss to buy some nap pods for the break room. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow, and special thanks to Teresa from Patreon for asking!

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