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Think it’s decadent to sleep at midday? Think again. A power nap can make you smarter, saner, and healthier.

Spaniards take siestas; Germans enjoy ein Schläfchen; Japanese professionals like to power snooze. “Naps are a time-honored part of many thriving cultures,” says Sara Mednick, Ph.D., a psychologist and a sleep researcher at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, in La Jolla, California. She estimates that between 40 and 60 percent of the world’s adult population naps. And maybe you should, too.

Sleep experts recommend that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep every night, but American adults average 6.8 hours during the week, according to the National Sleep Foundation. “We’ve gotten to the point where sleep is viewed as a luxury rather than a necessity,” says James B. Maas, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Cornell University and the author of Power Sleep ($14, amazon.com). Yet if more of us napped to make up for lost sleep, “we’d be more efficient and productive at work and at home,” Mednick says. A 20- or 30-minute nap can leave you refreshed, with the energy to cruise through the rest of the day. Studies have found that people who nap and get adequate sleep are less forgetful and have lower levels of stress hormones.

If you tend to power through the day on cola and coffee, read on. Even though napping is an inborn skill (babies do it with ease), many adults find it difficult. The following strategies will help napping become second nature to you—whether you’re at home, at the office, or on the road. Go ahead, take five.

Nap Your Way to Better Health

Napping provides many of the restorative benefits that a full night’s sleep does, including the most obvious: feeling refreshed and alert. In a recent study, Mednick compared the ability of nappers and non-nappers to learn a computer game. The two groups, both of which averaged 7½ hours of sleep a night, were taught a game, then were tested on their skills—once in the morning and again at 4:00 in the afternoon. The napping group snoozed at 1 p.m. before repeating the test. The study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, found that the nappers’ mastery of the game was 50 percent greater than the non-nappers’. “Napping clearly seems to improve learning,” Mednick says.

Post-snooze, you can expect to perform better on tasks requiring creative insight, complex motor or perceptual skills, and muscular precision. “After a nap, you improve at everything from playing the piano to typing and proofreading,” Mednick says. Naps can also improve your outlook. Nicole Osterman, a 34-year-old administrative assistant in New York City who naps frequently, says, “I get more accomplished and I’m in a better mood because I’ve rested.”

The extra sleep may also help reduce your risk of developing several serious illnesses. “People who sleep less than seven hours a night show higher-than-normal levels of the stress hormone cortisol and of insulin,” Mednick says. High levels of these hormones have been associated with diabetes and heart disease. “More sleep,” she says, “even in the form of naps, helps keep those stress hormones in check.”