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Naps: the rest of the story

The Baltimore Sun

Sleep-deprived Americans are increasingly turning to the power nap and afternoon siesta to restore alertness and enhance performance, studies show. And some spa patrons are shelling out big bucks just to snooze.

The Kohler Waters Spa in Burr Ridge, Ill., which opened in April, offers a 60-minute massage with a 15-minute nap service for $150.

"We are seeing so many of our guests coming in that are having trouble sleeping at night," said Jean Kolb, Kohler's wellness business director. "This is a way for us to really extend an opportunity for them to have total relaxation."

But some sleep scientists say napping can negatively affect nighttime sleeping and make you groggy. Meanwhile, other researchers say dozing can relax, rejuvenate and improve health.

A six-year study released last year by the Harvard University School of Public Health and the University of Athens Medical School in Greece found midday napping at least three times per week for at least 30 minutes reduced heart disease deaths by about one third among men and women. The study focused on 23,681 Greeks who had no history of coronary heart disease, stroke or cancer.

Napping also takes the edge off sleepiness by adding to cumulative sleep time, said Gregory Belenky, a sleep researcher at Washington State University.

"You can split your sleep up and still have the same aggregate effect," Belenky said. "Nap early, nap often."

Lisa Shives, president of Northshore Sleep Medicine in Evanston, Ill., disagrees. People who nap often have a sleeping problem or a medical condition, she said.

One drawback to napping is sleep inertia - the feeling of disorientation when awaking from a deep slumber, Shives said. People who insist on snoozing should keep the nap to 30 minutes or less to avoid getting into the deep-sleep cycle, she said.

"If you try to take a nap and it's too long, you wake up super-groggy," said Shives, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine based in Westchester, Ill. "That is not a good thing for anyone who needs to work immediately. They really haven't made themselves feel better."

But if you're a napper, rest assured: You're in good company.

Fifty-four percent of the 1,000 Americans polled in a 2007 survey by the National Sleep Foundation said they took at least one nap during the prior month. The respondents on average took 3.5 naps during the month, with an average reported nap time of about an hour.

Tracy Swartz writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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