Making the most of a short nap

For many of us, taking an afternoon nap is a great way to refresh when we're feeling sleepy. The September 2008 issue of Harvard Men's Health Watch discusses napping, its risks, its benefits, and tips to make it work for you.

People who are sleep deprived feel groggy during the day and may fall asleep when they least want to, perhaps at their desks or, worse, behind the steering wheel. Poor sleep at night may be caused by simply not devoting enough time to sleep or by medical problems that disrupt sleep, such as restless legs syndrome and obstructive sleep apnea. And in some cases, daytime sleepiness can result directly from medical problems such as depression or an underactive thyroid.

Voluntary napping, on the other hand, is not a sign of sleep deprivation, illness, or aging. In fact, a "power nap" can be helpful as well as enjoyable. Many studies of shift workers and other volunteers have reported that a nap as brief as 20 minutes can improve alertness, psychomotor performance, and mood.

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