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Study suggests coffee and a nap can help promote alertness

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As just about any college student will tell you, it’s not unconventional to drain the coffee pot in order to stay alert throughout the day or into the wee hours if you’re in the throes of an all-nighter. According to the University Herald on Aug. 30, however, a recent study suggests that the best way to maximize brain activity is to mix coffee with something you might not expect: a nap.

Findings from the study, done by researchers from Loughborough University in the United Kingdom, say that taking a cat nap (or “coffee nap”) lasting about 20 minutes just after having some java can help you wake up feeling refreshed and benefit brain function. Sounds a bit counterintuitive, but it’s all about the timing; the brief nap gives enough time for the caffeine to take effect on the brain.

That effect involves the brain molecule known as adenosine, which normally tells the body it’s drowsy after accumulating at high enough levels and can be reduced naturally through sleep. Around the end of the coffee nap, the caffeine kicks in and helps reduce the brain’s adenosine level even further. Since it can take around 20 minutes for the caffeine from coffee to enter the brain through the bloodstream, coffee and a nap may be the optimal combination for feeling re-energized.

For the study, participants took coffee naps before attempting some sort of cognitive task. In one experiment, the study found that those who did the coffee/nap combination committed fewer errors on a driving simulator test, as opposed to those who only had one or the other or were given a placebo. Another experiment done by Japanese scientists involved 24 young males who took short naps throughout the day instead of a proper full night’s sleep. Those who had had coffee before their naps ultimately performed better on the cognitive tests than the placebo group.

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