The experts agree that we need 7 to 8 hours of sleep if we want to remain in good health. You can even read about their beliefs in my most recent article, "The Right Amount of Sleep to Avoid Diabetes.” But they’re wrong.
When we are clever enough, we can trick our bodies into thinking that they are well rested. In fact, a new study proves that this trick works.
What most of the experts fail to take into account is the multiplier effect of an afternoon nap. But now some them have seen the light. The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism a few days ago published their new study online ahead of print.
“Our data suggests a 30-minute nap can reverse the hormonal impact of a night of poor sleep,” says the lead author, Brice Faraut, of the Universite Paris Descartes-Sorbonne Paris Cite in France. His research convinces him that napping is a way to counter the damaging effects of sleep restriction. It helps our “immune and neuroendocrine systems to recover."
Lack of sleep linked to diabetes
Our lack of sleep can increase the risk of diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and depression, the Endocrine Society writes. Too little sleep also means that we are less productive at work and have more accidents, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, calling it “a public health epidemic.”
The abstract of Professor Faraut’s study, “Napping Reverses the Salivary Interleukin-6 and Urinary Norepinephrine Changes Induced by Sleep Restriction,” is online. At my request the Endocrine Society sent me the full-text.
The study was a small one of 11 healthy young men, and it seriously limited their sleep to just two hours a night. The results might seem a bit technical, but the next day these men had a 2 ½-fold increase in their norepinephrine, which is a stress hormone that increases heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar. Their levels of the protein called interleukin-6, which fights viruses, had also dropped.
But when they were allowed to nap, their levels of this stress hormone and their virus-fighting protein returned to normal.
A two-hour or 30-minute nap
On another night, sleep was limited to two hours again. However, the next day they were allowed to take two 30-minute naps. After napping, the men's norepinephrine and interleukin-6 levels were normal.
The authors of the new study concluded that a 30-minute nap “is critical for recovery from stress and immune alterations” and could have a “long-term effect on cardiovascular health.” The call napping a “countermeasure” against sleep that is too short.
My experience with napping when I haven’t been able to get a good night’s sleep doesn’t tell me about my levels of these hormones and proteins. But I know how quickly a nap helps me recover mental clarity and a good mood.
A couple of weeks ago I had one of the worst night’s sleep of my whole life. Tossing and turning for hours, I got to sleep only about 4 a.m. And then I had to get up at 6 a.m. for a meeting. While I survived the meeting, by mid-afternoon I was exhausted. A few minutes of sleep, however, completely refreshed me.
Fortunately, I work at home that has a bed handy. If your employer isn’t one of the up-to-date ones and doesn’t have a place for you to rest when you need it, you might suggest a napping room.