They don’t call it a power nap for nothing… Something as simple as a 30-minute snooze could help alleviate stress and boost the immune system, according to a new study.
Scientists hope that napping could help to improve the health of those who suffer from a serious lack of sleep, which is now recognised as a public health problem.
It is thought that a third of people in the UK have episodes of insomnia. Meanwhile, insufficient sleep can contribute to reduced productivity as well as vehicle and industrial accidents, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Similarly, people who sleep too little are more likely to develop chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and depression.
The study involved examining the relationship between hormones and sleep in a group of 11 healthy men between the ages of 25 and 32.
The men underwent two sessions of sleep testing in a laboratory, where meals and lighting were strictly controlled.
During one session, the men were limited to two hours of sleep for one night. For the other session, subjects were able to take two, 30-minute naps the day after their sleep was restricted to two hours.
Each of the three-day sessions began with a night where subjects spent eight hours in bed and concluded with a recovery night of unlimited sleep.
The findings revealed that after a night of poor sleep, the men’s norepinephrine levels increased dramatically.
Norepinephrine is a hormone and neurotransmitter involved in the body’s fight-or-flight response to stress. It also increases the body’s heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar.
Researchers found no change in norepinephrine levels when the men had napped following a night of limited sleep.
Lack of sleep also affected the levels of interleukin-6, a protein with antiviral properties, found in the subjects’ saliva.
The levels dropped after a night of restricted sleep but remained normal when the subjects were allowed to nap, which suggests that a power snooze could be beneficial for the immune system.
“Our data suggests a 30-minute nap can reverse the hormonal impact of a night of poor sleep,” said one of the study’s authors, Brice Faraut, of the Université Paris Descartes-Sorbonne Paris Cité in France.
“This is the first study that found napping could restore biomarkers of neuroendocrine and immune health to normal levels.”
“Napping may offer a way to counter the damaging effects of sleep restriction by helping the immune and neuroendocrine systems to recover,” added Faraut.
“The findings support the development of practical strategies for addressing chronically sleep-deprived populations, such as night and shift workers.”
The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM).