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Nap Quest

Wake up to the benefits of a midday snooze.
WebMD the Magazine - Feature

All day long, harried New Yorkers and tuckered-out tourists stream up to the 24th floor of the Empire State Building. Here, a company called MetroNaps provides eye masks and aerodynamically curved pods --- looking like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey --- where the sleepy can catch up on shut-eye for $14 per 20 minutes. They're joining thousands of others across the country who know that a daytime nap is key to coping with life's demands and hectic pace.

Need to recharge? Napping is the way of the world. Whether it's a siesta in Spain or a kip in England, a nap helps recharge our batteries. Great minds such as Leonardo da Vinci, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Albert Einstein were all known to catch 40 winks during the day. Many of today's Olympians and other top athletes report taking long naps in the afternoon as part of their training regimen. British Airways even allows its pilots to snooze briefly during trans-Atlantic flights, on the theory that they'll be more alert when it comes time to land.

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Even so, it's taken some time for naps to gain popularity (and workplace acceptance) among the rest of us. According to a 2005 National Sleep Foundation poll, 55% of adults surveyed take, on average, at least one nap during the week, with 35% reporting that they take two or more.

How do naps help? MRI scans show that brain activity stays high throughout the day in people who nap. Without one, activity declines as the day wears on. After a nap, the brain has greater alertness, improved memory retention, and an enhanced ability to think creatively and insightfully.

You can gain benefits from snoozing as little as five minutes or as much as two hours. Research shows you stand to get the most out of a midday snooze if you can go through a full cycle of sleep, including slow-wave or "deep" sleep. This can take about 90 minutes. Research shows that taking a 20-minute nap about eight hours after you wake can do more for you than sleeping another 20 minutes in the morning.

Feel the urge to nap? Giving in to it can help you feel revived and more productive at work, on the road, or at home. It's an open-and-shut-eye case. Here are some tips:

  • Silence, please. Find a napping place free from phones, loud noises, or disruptive people.
  • Safety first. Nap in a safe place. If you choose to snooze in a car or in a parking garage, lock your doors or identify a napping partner who can watch out for you.
  • Early to rise. Avoid napping past 3 p.m. so that it won't interfere with a good night's sleep. It's best to nap according to your circadian rhythm (the body's natural 24-hour cycle), which for most of us means snoozing in late morning or early afternoon.
  • Waking life. Once your nap is over, take a quick walk in the sunlight if possible to reset your circadian clock.

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