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Published: Tuesday, 2/20/2007

Sleeping on the job

REGARDLESS of whether you believe the French are wrong about the war, it turns out they are very right about napping. French Health Minister Xavier Bertrand, worried his countrymen are not getting enough rest, has seriously considered the idea of letting workers get a daytime nap. Now, a report in the Archives of Internal Medicine says that daytime naps a few times a week are so good for you that they reduce a person's risk of dying from a heart attack by more than one third.

While that should certainly wake folks up, the problem for many workaholic Americans is finding time to take a 30-minute nap three times a week. But when given the choice of taking an aspirin, exercising, or napping daily, many must find a few ZZZZs more appealing.

In fact, the American and Greek researchers who conducted the study say naps provide about the same beneficial effects as the daily aspirin and exercise. (Why sweat when you can sleep?)

Although more study is necessary of what appears to be the lifesaving benefits of napping, the team's findings are not totally surprising. In the Mediterranean and some Central American countries where siestas are the norm, heart disease rates are lower. Other studies have connected napping and stress reduction.

Although the French workweek is about 35 hours and they get ample vacation, one in three still complain about not sleeping well. But they certainly have a friend in their health minister.

He wants to know if there's a link between sleep and job performance, and has commissioned a study and public awareness campaign about the issue. On the other side of the Atlantic, however, the mantra here is work, work, work, even on days off, weekends, and vacation. If the scientists had looked at Americans, they might have been hard-pressed to find enough napping subjects to study.

We have biological clocks, and when our biorhythms start to run low in the afternoon, sleep-deprived U.S. workers reach for java or chocolate for a pick-me-up.

If more evidence clearly links health benefits to napping, maybe employers will change their minds and let us take nap breaks on the job, especially if the practice drives down health-care costs.

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