If You Didn't Get Enough Sleep Last Night, Take a Nap Today

CC BY 2.0. Laura D'Alessandro

Study shows that naps can reverse the negative effects of sleep-deprivation on hormones. Now, to make the afternoon snooze socially acceptable...

Sleep deprivation was declared a public health epidemic by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2013. According to Daniel Levitin, author of The Organized Mind, sleepiness was responsible for 250,000 traffic accidents in 2009 alone and played a major role in nuclear disasters such as Chernobyl, the oil spill from the Exxon Valdez, the fatal decision to launch the Challenger space shuttle, and the 2009 Air France plane crash into the Atlantic Ocean.

Despite the fact that “sleep deprivation is estimated to cost U.S. businesses more than $150 billion a year in absences, accidents, and lost productivity,” not to mention the countless health problems associated with lack of sufficient sleep, there remains an unfortunate cultural aversion to sleep. The fact is our workaholic culture doesn’t take it seriously enough.

“While we’ll spend thousands on lavish vacations to unwind, grind away hours exercising and pay exorbitant amounts for organic food, sleep remains ingrained in our cultural ethos as something that can be put off, dosed, or ignored. We can’t look at sleep as an investment in our health because – after all – it’s just sleep. It is hard to feel like you’re taking an active step to improve your life with your head on a pillow,” says sleep expert David K. Randall (The Organized Mind).

If you’re not getting enough sleep at night – the average requirement for adults is 6-10 hours, and 3 out of 10 adults report getting less than that on a regular basis – then perhaps a nap can help. A new study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism has shown that napping for as little as 30 minutes can reverse the negative effects of a poor night’s sleep.

Researchers studied 11 healthy young men, who underwent two sleep-testing sessions in a laboratory where light and food were strictly controlled. Two hormones were examined – norepinephrine, which is responsible for the body’s fight-or-flight response, and interleukin-6, a protein with anti-viral properties.

After receiving only two hours of sleep in a night, the level of norepinephrine in the men’s brains increased dramatically, increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar, while the level of immune-system-boosting interleukin-6 plummeted. A 30-minute nap, however, restored interleukin-6 to normal levels. Brice Faraut, a study author, says:

“Naps may offer a way to counter the damaging effects of sleep restriction by helping the immune and neuroendocrine systems to recover.”

You don’t need to tell me twice! A great advantage of working from home while raising little kids who need their afternoon naps is that I always collapse into bed for a quick post-lunch snooze. It’s one of the highlights of my day, which is precisely why I love studies like this. Give it a try and you, too, will discover why it’s so awesome.