Sleep specialists have proposed measures to counteract the negative short- and long-term consequences of sleep debt, and some have suggested the nap as a potential and powerful "public health tool". Here, we address this countermeasure aspect of napping viewed as an action against sleep deprivation rather than an action associated with poor health. We review the physiological functions that have been associated positively with napping in both public health and clinical settings (sleep-related accidents, work and school, and cardiovascular risk) and in laboratory-based studies with potential public health issues (cognitive performance, stress, immune function and pain sensitivity). We also discuss the circumstances in which napping-depending on several factors, including nap duration, frequency, and age-could be a potential public health tool and a countermeasure for sleep loss in terms of reducing accidents and cardiovascular events and improving sleep-restriction-sensitive working performance. However, the impact of napping and the nature of the sleep stage(s) involved still need to be evaluated, especially from the perspective of coping strategies in populations with chronic sleep debt, such as night and shift workers.
Keywords: Cardiovascular risk; Cognitive functions; Immunity; Napping; Night-work; Public health; Sleep debt; Sleepiness; Stress.
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