Naps (brief sleeps) are a global and highly prevalent phenomenon, thus warranting consideration for their effects on cognitive functioning. Naps can reduce sleepiness and improve cognitive performance. The benefits of brief (5-15 min) naps are almost immediate after the nap and last a limited period (1-3h). Longer naps (> 30 min) can produce impairment from sleep inertia for a short period after waking but then produce improved cognitive performance for a longer period (up to many hours). Other factors that affect the benefits from the nap are the circadian timing of the nap with early afternoon being the most favourable time. Longer periods of prior wakefulness favour longer naps over brief naps. Those who regularly nap seem to show greater benefits than those who rarely nap. These conclusions, however, need to be accepted cautiously until more comprehensive research programmes are conducted in which all these parameters are varied. Research is also needed to test the benefits of brief naps taken more naturalistically at the time when sleepiness becomes intrusive. The significant benefits of a brief nap, containing virtually no slow wave EEG activity, are not predicted by the present theory of homeostatic sleep drive (Process S). A new biological process (Process O) suggests that sleep onset followed by only 7-10 min of sleep can result in a substantial increase of alertness because it allows the rapid dissipation of inhibition in the 'wake-active' cells associated with the 'sleep-switch' mechanism rather than the dissipation of Process S.
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