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Study Shows Caffeine-Nap Remedy for Staying Alert During The Nightshift

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
How to balance coffee and napping with shift work.

Here’s the latest on how taking caffeine and a nap at the same time can help workers stay alert during a nightshift.

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There’s no doubt that working the nightshift leads to sleep deprivation, poor health and excessive weight gain. And to ease their working conditions working midnight shifts, some workers manage to slip in a little cat nap to take the edge off of tiredness; while others, go for the constant coffee pick-me-up.

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However, according to a news release from the University of South Australia about a pilot study investigating the impact of caffeine and napping at the workplace, the problem with taking a brief cat nap at work—aside from getting caught by the boss doing it—is that it leads to a state of grogginess that can last for up to an hour and can cause impairment on performance and mood.

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Furthermore, going the coffee route is not the answer either because it can seriously affect your sleeping schedule after signing off from the job.

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“Shift workers are often chronically sleep-deprived because they have disrupted and irregular sleep patterns,” stated Dr. Stephanie Centofanti, a researcher at the Chronobiology Laboratory at the University of South Australia and the lead author of the pilot study.

“As a result, they 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."

“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."

“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."

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As it turns out, however, researchers involved in the study posit that if you get the timing right, you can combine drinking coffee with napping and feel less groggy following your nap with what they refer to as a ‘caffeine-nap’ (or ‘caff-nap’).

The idea is to drink coffee just before taking a nap, allowing the shift worker to gain the benefits of a 20-30-minute nap followed by the perk of the caffeine kicking in at about the same time they begin to wake up.

The news release states that the study participants consumed 200 mg of caffeine just before starting a thirty-minute long nap beginning at 3:30 a.m. As a control, another group of participants were given a placebo for comparison.

What the researchers observed was that “caffeine-nap” group showed marked improvements in both performance and alertness over the “placebo-nap” group, indicating that there may be potential toward using ‘caffeine-naps’ as a fatigue countermeasure for shift workers.

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Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with an eye on the latest news, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on what you need to know for healthier living. For continual updates about health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Image Source: Courtesy of image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

References:

A coffee and catnap keep you sharp on the nightshift” University of South Australia news release August 2020.

A pilot study investigating the impact of a caffeine-nap on alertness during a simulated night shift” Stephanie Centofanti , Siobhan Banks , Scott Coussens , Darren Gray , Emily Munro , Johnathon Nielsen & Jillian Dorrian; Chronobiology International (2020).

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