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Hugh Wilson
03 November 2011 15:55 | By Hugh Wilson, contributor, MSN Him

The health benefits of napping



The health benefits of napping (© Henrik Sorensen-Stone-Getty Images)

You probably know about the health benefits of a good night's sleep, but experts now think that a quick power nap during the day can also work wonders.

Sleeping on the job is probably frowned on in your place of work, and taking 40 winks at your desk could even be a sackable offence.

That might not be true for much longer though. In America, office nap rooms - where workers can retire for a quick dose of revitalising shut-eye - are becoming common.

It's rare for any employer to do something which isn't likely to show results on the balance sheet, and that's true with nap rooms too. But research shows pretty emphatically that daytime napping is both good for us - and good for our productivity.

Here are the health benefits of power napping, and how you can catch up with sleep without your boss blowing a fuse.

What is a power nap?

Put simply, a power nap is a short daytime snooze that refreshes both mind and body.

Man having a nap on a sofa (© Jose Luis Pelaez Inc-Blend Images-Getty Images)

Limiting your nap to between 15 and 30 minutes means you don't risk entering the full sleep cycle and will therefore wake up refreshed rather than groggy

The difference between a power nap and a longer daytime sleep is that - by limiting the nap to between 15 and 30 minutes - you don't risk entering the full sleep cycle.

That's important, because entering a proper sleep cycle and then failing to complete it risks bringing on sleep inertia, a consequence of stunted sleep that can leave you feeling groggier and less rested than before your nap.

On MSN Him: men, why are you so tired?

What are the health benefits of napping?

It's long been thought that humans are hardwired to sleep twice in 24 hours - a long sleep at night and a shorter one during the afternoon.

That theory was given a boost by a Greek study which found that men who took a half-hour midday nap at least three times a week had a 37% lower risk of heart-related death than those who didn't nap at all.

Man sleeping wearing a blindfold (© Peter Dazeley-Photographer's Choice-Getty Images)

In countries where siestas are part of the culture, death from coronary diseases is low

Lead researcher Dr Dimitrios Trichopoulos, from the Harvard School of Public Health, said: "In countries where mortality from coronary diseases is low, siesta is quite prevalent."

Naps have also been shown to be beneficial to stress levels and anxiety and reduce the risk of excessive weight gain. And a British study conducted in 2008 found that just looking forward to a nap was enough to lower blood pressure.

On Bing: more health benefits of power napping

Does regular napping have other benefits?

As well as health benefits, napping produces a host of other rewards. Perhaps most importantly, napping can boost mental alertness and productivity.

That's important, because as a study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience showed that 'burn out' - defined as irritation, frustration and poorer performance on mental tasks - sets in as the day wears on.

Businessman sprinting out of the blocks (© Comstock-Getty Images)

In addition to benefiting your health, an afternoon nap will boost your mental alertness and productivity

Subject's scores on a mental task worsened over the course of four daily sessions. But the study found that allowing subjects a 30-minute nap after the second session stopped that deterioration in performance in its tracks.

Meanwhile, a NASA study has shown that napping can improve memory function, and research on pilots found that a short in-flight nap (while the co-pilot flew the plane) improved performance by 34% and overall alertness by 54%. Which is pretty handy for a pilot.

Similarly, a Harvard study published in 2008 showed that napping can improve learning and memory. And when scientists at Stanford University asked doctors and nurses to take a short nap while working the night shift in an emergency department, they showed better moods, higher levels of alertness and greater speed in executing job-related tasks.

In other words, napping makes you healthier, brainier, safer, and a better employee and student. The only question is, how on earth do you fit a nap into your busy day?

On MSN Him: the dangers of not getting enough sleep

How to nap

The good news is that naps don't have to be long to be effective. One study involving air traffic controllers showed that, even though they were only actually asleep for an average of 18 minutes, their reaction times and overall performance improved measurably after a nap.

So can you nap in your lunch hour or in a break between classes? If you don't want to be seen napping at your desk, can you grab 40 winks in the car? Or the loo? Failing that, is there an out-of-the-way meeting room or even stationery cupboard that is never used at lunchtime?

Man at work napping at his desk (© Jonathan Ross-Iconica-Getty Images)

Your desk might not be the best place to grab a nap but your workplace might offer more suitable alternatives

If it has to be your desk, make sure you announce your nap to colleagues, so they know not to wake you. Bring in a pillow to make sure you're comfortable, and set the alarm on your phone so you're not worried about not waking up in time for your afternoon meeting.

And then, be brave. If the boss asks what you're doing, give him or her a rundown of the benefits of napping, for both you and your job performance. As one sleep researcher says, "we should stop feeling guilty about taking a power nap at work."

On MSN Him: how to improve your work life balance

The downsides of napping

Apart from the inevitable ribbing you'll receive from your colleagues, there are very few downsides to a short nap once a day. But don't nap more than that and, if you have trouble sleeping at night, don't nap at all.

For everyone else, it might be time to embrace the daytime nap. Research suggests that a quick daytime snooze is one shortcut to a sharper, healthier nation.

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