As I was doing research the other day on sleeping and the effects of napping, I ran across an interesting post by Brad Issac over at Achieve-IT. The post was labeled “How To Take A Caffeine Nap” and was based on a short article he had found in Field and Stream magazine. I was immediately intrigued by the research findings. The excerpt said…
Sleep researchers at the Loughborough University in Britain did several tests on fatigued drivers to compare the effects of different methods for a driver can use to stay awake. They put the volunteers in driving simulators while they were sleepy and let them drive. Some of the tests included rolling down windows for cold exposure, blasting the radio and slapping oneself in the face to try to stay awake. But what researchers found worked the best was a Caffeine Nap.
The Caffeine Nap is simple. You drink a cup of coffee and immediately take a 15 minute nap. Researchers found coffee helps clear your system of adenosine, a chemical which makes you sleepy. So in testing, the combination of a cup of coffee with an immediate nap chaser provided the most alertness for the longest period of time. The recommendation was to nap only 15 minutes, no more or less and you must sleep immediately after the coffee.
This is pretty profound stuff as we all have felt the effects of driver fatigue. As I have been testing different nap schedules throughout the day for my post of Quadraphasic Living, I have found similar results for the nap part. A length of 15 minutes is ideal for developing increased focus and alertness. If I sleep longer than 20 minutes I wake up irritable and groggy. The key to this process is to take along some type of alarm to wake you after 15 minutes is up or the whole effort becomes moot.
I have tested the “caffeine nap” in the early evening and found that it works well to energize you for 2 to 3 hours. The problem with using Caffeine is the effects may linger longer than you want and cause problems with your normal sleep. Too much caffeine can also cause a lack of focus and trouble concentrating. This definitely seems like a good tool for long road trips and times that you must stay up to a certain hour (like New Years Eve).
One of the best uses for napping that I have found is to energize your mind for an afternoon test, important meeting or other activity where you find that you have to concentrate and focus on important material. While napping alone is effective, I’ve found that adding a “zone meal” immediately after napping helps you concentrate better and stay focused. The definition of a zone meal is one that includes low glycemic carbs, protein and healthy fats and promotes a stable blood sugar level for hours.
Doctor Barry Sears wrote the famous book called the “The Zone” on his findings of this type of diet. Most current diet research has led to similar conclusions. The secret is to have some protein, healthy fats and “low glycemic” carbohydrates. A glycemic chart is available called the glycemic Index.
Glycemic balance is the key to maintaining proper blood sugar levels between meals. There is a lot of ongoing research in this area but what I have found that works well for me is to eat 6 smaller meals throughout the day and stay away from highly processed carbohydrates. The glycemic index will give you an idea of foods to stay away from.
If I have an important meeting or test in the afternoon, I will usually do a timed nap of 15 minutes. When I wake up I’ll do a little light exercise and then have a light meal which will have protein, whole grains and some fat. One of my more popular lunches will be a tuna sandwich open face on whole wheat and an apple with a little peanut butter. The combination of the Protein (tuna), low glycemic carbs (whole wheat bread and apple), and a little monounsaturated fat (peanut butter) will keep my blood sugar levels stable for hours.
Once I get back to work I’m refreshed and ready to go. I find that I can concentrate much better than with a processed meal of white bread burgers, french fries and a sugary soft drink.
Years ago when I was training for my Novell network certification I would spend the mornings in class and take a certification test in the afternoon. The training school had a cafe where they would put out sugary treats (muffins and pastries) and coffee throughout the day. After eating this stuff all morning I would grab a fast food lunch and usually grab another pastry for dessert. When I would enter the testing booth in the afternoon my mind was all over the place. The combination of sugar and caffeine was very detrimental to sustained concentration. The questions were tough enough and with a lack of focus I really struggled. And to top it off usually about an hour into the test my blood sugar would drop and I would get very sleepy.
It was during this time that I read the book “The Zone” by Barry Sears. I decided to do a little experiment one day and I brought a couple of Balance bars from home. These bars have 40% carbs, 40% protein, and 30% fat. I had one in the morning and had a light lunch of chicken breast and salad. During lunch I reviewed the test material and closed my eyes and relaxed for 15 minutes. I had a half of another bar before testing in the afternoon. My caffeine intake that day was just one cup of coffee in the morning.
The difference was amazing, the material seemed to fall into place in my mind. It was much easier to concentrate and focus on the difficult questions. The other difference was I maintained focus throughout the 90 minute exam instead of having a blood sugar crash halfway through the test. During the following weeks I would keep some Balance bars with me and try to stay away from the donuts and pastries. Without the added sugar and caffeine my concentration during the daily classes was much better. While Balance and other brands of “low glycemic” bars are not an everyday staple they do work well when you can’t eat a balanced meal.
I try to keep one in the car or at my desk for important occasions. I usually take one with me for Toastmasters meetings and other times where concentration is key. It is really easy to see the difference between a “candy bar” and a “zone bar”. Try this experiment sometime. Have a large 3 musketeers or other ordinary candy bar about 2 in the afternoon and see how you feel about an hour later. If you are like me you’ll feel tired and your eyes will start to droop and you’ll find yourself yawning. Try the same experiment with the low glycemic bar and you’ll feel much more energized throughout the rest of the afternoon.
The combination of a short nap (15-20 minutes) and a low glycemic meal makes a noticable difference. Researchers have found that a short nap can increase alertness and productivity by 30 to 40 percent over those who do not take a nap. Combining this with steady blood sugar levels can help you concentrate better and stay on task. Everyone is different so the key is to experiment and see what works best for you. The added concentration and alertness may just help you pass that next test. Sometimes it is only one complex question that may keep you from a certification or getting that new job.
Low Glycemic nutrition:
The Glycemic rating of some popular foods (the lower the better)
French fries 75
white bread 72
Need to pass that test? Get into the zone…