Something pretty crazy happens in your body at about 2 or 3 p.m. every day. Around this time, most people start to get a little more drowsy. If you can't focus as well as you did a few hours earlier, you're not alone.
This temporary sleepiness isn't just a post-lunch "food coma." It's a natural phenomenon of the human body clock, one of two daily slumps that are built into our circadian rhythm. (You may not have even noticed the other energy and body temperature slump, because it happens around 3 a.m., when most of us are still sleeping.)
It's a performance-sucking problem. Recently, researchers from Harvard Medical School estimated that workplace sleepiness and drowsy employees cost the average-sized Fortune 500 company around $80 million a year. Scientific studies suggest that some of our neural pathways slow down at this time, which means it's tougher to evaluate problems and make good decisions.
A proven way to counteract this tired time is to lean into your sleepiness with a quick nap. It's an idea that researchers from Japan to the UK have endorsed, suggesting that pairing a short nap with a jolt of afternoon coffee can be a recipe for staying alert and accident-free through the day.
Longtime nap skeptic and author Daniel Pink says this kind of coffee nap, or "nappuccino," as he dubbed it, recently changed his life for the better.
In his 2018 productivity-hacking book, "When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing," Pink says "after a few months of experimenting with twenty-minute afternoon naps, I've converted."
Napping is not for everyone, though. The Mayo Clinic suggests that if you have trouble getting to sleep at night or suffer from insomnia, then napping may not be the best post-lunch solution for you.
But if you're ready to give the science-backed art of true power napping a try, here's how it's done:
- Keep your naps between 10 and 20 minutes long. After 20 minutes of snoozing, people wake up groggy and take some time to recover to a truly alert state. If you keep your nap to under 20 minutes, you'll wake up refreshed and ready to think.
- Before you nap, drink a cup of coffee. "The caffeine won't fully engage in your bloodstream for about 25 minutes, so drink up right before you lie down," Pink wrote in the book. Plus, there's new evidence the benefits of sipping a pre-nap coffee go beyond simply keeping you alert when you get up.Research published in the journal Scientific Reports in February suggests that drinking coffee can actually improve your brain's ability to process more complex information.
- Time your nap around 2 or 3 p.m. If that doesn't feel like your groggiest afternoon moment, Pink suggested another way to calculate your slump is roughly seven hours from when you wake up in the morning.
- Finally, don't feel guilty about your mid-day snooze session. As Harvard Medical School points out, "The well-timed nap can make you more productive at work and at home." So go ahead and enjoy your shut-eye. Just make sure you don't oversleep the 25-minute window and wake up groggy and decaffeinated.