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Feeling Draggy? Nap Out of It!

Do you know why pandas are so smart and relaxed? Because they take naps! Join them this weekend.
Liu Jin / AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
Do you know why pandas are so smart and relaxed? Because they take naps! Join them this weekend.

When that shiny ball dropped in Times Square, you were maybe thinking, "I'm going to lose my love handles in 2007." But your plan probably involved something unpleasant, like swearing off chocolate and dragging your rear end to the gym before sunrise. Here's a more appealing way to fulfill your vow: Sometime this weekend, curl up under a blanket and catch some shuteye.

In Take a Nap! Change Your Life, Sara C. Mednick -- a Harvard-educated scientist whose research usually involves pillows -- explains that napping isn't just for preschoolers. A little extra sleep can boost alertness, motor skills, accuracy and creativity, as well as make your weight-loss resolution come true. When you’re better rested, you won't crave an energy jolt from junk food. Plus, you'll look more perky and youthful.

To find your ideal naptime, clear your schedule and see when drowsiness strikes -- probably between 1 p.m and 3 p.m. Then go with it.

As for how long to sleep, that depends on what you want out of the nap, Mednick explains. It takes two minutes to transition into Stage 2 sleep, which improves alertness and motor skills. Wake up after about 18 minutes, and you'll feel as if you got a powernap recharge. After 18 minutes, nappers slip into slow-wave sleep (which can help with stress), a repeat of Stage 2, and then REM (which spurs creativity). The length of the stages varies depending on the time of day and when you awoke in the morning. The book has a sleep wheel to help you understand your sleep cycle, so you can optimize your nap length for whatever it is you'll face later in the day. Keep in mind, a nap is only a nap if you are out at least five minutes but no more than three hours.

The hard part comes on Monday. But Mednick offers tips on how to convince your boss it makes sense to set up a nap room: Regular napping will up productivity and zap absenteeism, because everyone will be healthier. Or you could just sneak into the bathroom with a quilt and an alarm clock.

Vicky Hallett, who writes about fitness for Washington Post Express, naps eight hours a day.

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Vicky Hallett