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Senior Correspondent

Q. I babysit quite a bit for my infant grandson and this interferes with my naps. I’m tired all the time when he’s around. Does giving up a nap affect your health?

My mother has a valuable tip for you. Nap when your grandson naps. That’s what she did with her children and grandchildren. In fact, she napped almost every day of her life. Her other habits were not the healthiest, but she knew how to rest. And she lived to be 89.

In a study published in The Archives of Internal Medicine researchers found that people who napped regularly had a 37 percent lower coronary death rate than those who never napped. The study was done on more than 23,000 Greek men and women ages 20 to 86.

The curiosity of the study’s authors was piqued by low rates of heart disease in European and Latin American countries where siestas are an integral part of their lifestyles.

Another study published in Annals of Emergency Medicine provided evidence that nurses and doctors on night shifts perform better when they take a nap at work.

“There is a belief that people who nap are lazy, and that attitude needs to change,” said Dr. Rebecca Smith-Coggins of Stanford University, the lead author of the study. “Naps are a powerful and inexpensive way to improve work.”

There have been many prominent nappers. These include Sir Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, Napoleon Bonaparte, Albert Einstein, and John F. Kennedy.

Here’s a comment from Churchill:

“You must sleep sometime between lunch and dinner, and no halfway measures,” he said. “Take off your clothes and get into bed. That's what I always do. Don't think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day. That's a foolish notion held by people who have no imaginations. You will be able to accomplish more. You get two days in one — well, at least one and a half.”

Churchill had abominable health habits. He was a heavy drinker and he smoked about 10 cigars a day his entire adult life. He lived to be 90.

A NASA sleep study to help astronauts function better demonstrated that 24-minute naps significantly improved alertness and performance.

Dr. David Dinges, a sleep researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, advocates “power naps” to counter sleep deprivation. He says that insufficient sleep causes “microsleeps,” involuntary dozing that causes accidents.

Sleep experts divide naps into brief snoozes that revive the brain and long ones to compensate for major sleep loss. A pick-me-up nap should be no longer than a half-hour. If you sleep beyond a half-hour, your body will drop into a deep sleep. When you get up from deep sleep, you can feel groggy for a while.

Here are some nap tips:

* When you feel like you need a coffee break, take a nap.
* Don’t nap in the late afternoon because you can shift your biological clock; this will make it harder to fall asleep at night and rise the next morning.
* Try to take your nap about the same time each day—about eight hours before you go to bed for the night.
* If you don’t want to nap a long time, set an alarm.
* In the hour or two before your nap time, eat foods high in calcium and protein, which promote sleep.
* Try to nap in the dark. Darkness stimulates melatonin, the sleep- inducing hormone.
* Remember that your body temperature drops when you fall asleep. So, pull a blanket over you even if you don’t feel cold when you begin your nap.

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