An Experiment with Caffeine

Two weeks ago, I took a little less than 6 hours and listened to Daniel Pink’s new book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. He wrote this book to fill a void in the How To world that has come to dominate the self help and self improvement landscape: when do we do these things that we have learned how to do?

Not too surprisingly, many of us operate on a U curve.  We begin the day at a high level of thinking and functioning, hit a midday trough filled with yawning and a lapse in your analytical abilities, followed by a little rejuvenation at the end of the day.

Last week, I decided to experiment with some of the wisdom that his research suggested. He brought up coffee in his book and as a connoisseur of the beverage, I perked up when he began speaking about this (bonus: Dan Pink reads his audio book).

There are a few times during the day that your cup of java will be most effective.  On the flip side, there is a time in which it might feel effective, but it is actually not doing the body good.  This time, oddly enough, was when I was drinking coffee.  As such, I wanted to see if there was any truth to this.

The Best Part of Waking Up

When you first awake, our bodies begin producing cortisol.  Cortisol is a hormone that wakes up the body and gets us ready for our day.  According to the research, drinking coffee immediately upon waking up interferes with the body’s natural production of cortisol.

So, it is best to wait 60-90 minutes after you wake up for that first cup of coffee.  This is when the body takes a nose dive in the production of cortisol.

The first few days of waiting 60-90 minutes for that first cup was NOT FUN.  However, it did get easier, and I do feel great after a week of experimentation.  Good enough, in fact, to continue the habit.

In my mind, my body is responding with, “What is this?? You’re finally letting me do my job in producing cortisol for you?  HOORAY! I’m glad you finally got the memo!”

Nap Time!

Sometime in the 2-3 PM time slot (this differs from person to person) is when most of us hit a serious trough. Unfortunately, the majority of us do not have the luxury of scheduling a siesta during this time.

What may be in your power, is to never schedule anything that will take analytical thought during this time. If you can, schedule a break.  Optimally, you have a zero gravity chair that can fold up and stow away in your office like mine.


Which brings me to what Daniel Pink calls the nappuccino.  It takes about 25 minutes for the caffeine from a cup of coffee to kick in. So, sometime in that 2-3 PM range, down a cup of coffee, and kick back for a snooze. It generally takes about 7 minutes for us to fall asleep, and then 15-18 minutes later, the caffeine kicks in to wake you up, and you have the most productive afternoon and evening that you’ve had in years.

I’ve been experimenting with the nappuccino for a lot longer than a week, as I heard about this a while ago, but I took it up a notch and tried my best to incorporate it into every day last week.

You can bet that next semester, I will not be scheduling anything between 2 and 3 PM if I can help it.

From personal experience, I am still amazed at how focused and energized I am after successfully pulling a nappuccino off.  The 25-30 minutes it takes to get this done is minuscule in comparison with the amount of work you accomplish after the fact.

For some of you, it will take training. You are not nappers, you tell yourself. Neither was Daniel Pink. He hated napping. In his book, he describes how he eventually embraced the nap and how it has changed his life.

For a quick, 115 second video of Daniel Pink describing the ideas above, check out his Pinkcast 2.15.  He also provides links to further research on the science behind these ideas.

-This blog was written after a nappuccino. 

3 thoughts on “An Experiment with Caffeine

    1. If you’re like Daniel Pink or Erin Shaw, napping may be very difficult to accomplish at first. Besides the downed cup of coffee, it is also key to limit it to less than 25 minutes. I think you’ll love that book.


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