Is napping good for you?


Napping reverses the damage caused by poor sleep


The human body is an incredible thing, it never ceases to work hard, even as we sleep. As we sleep, our body rejuvenates, repairs, and does the hard yards to keep us in good health. If you’ve ever had an “all-nighter”, you’re familiar with the sluggish, grumpy feelings which can follow the next day, not to mention heightened stress. This is because sleep is a crucial factor in keeping our central nervous system healthy. The central nervous system is the main route for information and messages sent throughout the body. This affects our decision-making abilities, mood, and cognitive function. It makes sense, therefore, that sleep deficiency is one of the biggest factors behind road and aviation accidents. For example, the tragic 1979 Three Mile Island meltdown and the catastrophic 1986 Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster were linked to lack of sleep.

When we are sleep deprived, our metabolic, immune, and hormonal systems become imbalanced. What’s more, long-term sleep deprivation can increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, high cholesterol, inflammation, depression, and anxiety. It’s safe to say that all of these conditions can seriously degrade our quality of life and take years off our lifespan.

Many people don’t put sleep at the forefront of their priorities list, and neglect to rank a good night’s sleep as having a high importance. Today’s world is fast, stressful, pressure-packed, and not conducive to restful, plentiful sleep. Increased screen time and demanding work hours contribute to sleep deficiency and the negative effects on our health. This brings us to the benefits of napping. Whether you’re partial to napping after work so as to recover from the day before the evening responsibilities commence, or you’re prone to napping in the afternoon to avoid the “slump”, you’re likely wondering “is napping healthy?”

The benefits of power napping


Most people think of naps as being only appropriate for babies, elderly people, and pregnant women. It’s a common question to ask, “is napping bad?”, as napping during the day is sometimes misunderstood as being an inhibitor of restful nighttime sleep. However, huge companies such as Apple and Google are bringing in the concept of napping as part of the working day. Research tells us that power naps, (less than 30 minutes), can improve mental efficiency and focus, boosting productivity in the workplace. [1] [2].

We know that napping does positively affect mental alertness, but what about stress and immunity? In 2015, a study was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, revealing new findings on this matter. Substantial evidence was presented, suggesting that “napping has stress-releasing and immune effects”. What’s more, it can reverse the negative effects of poor sleep on our neuroendocrine and immune systems.

Napping health benefits for improving immunity and neuroendocrine stress


The study involved the analysis of urine and saliva samples given by the participants to clarify the effect of poor sleep and napping on hormone levels. The participants were allowed to sleep two hours during the night, which resulted in an increased level of the stress hormone norepinephrine. What’s more, interleukin-6 levels decreased.
Interleukin-6 is a protein that triggers inflammatory responses in the body when viruses attack, or injury occurs. This discovery tells us that poor sleep negatively affects our body’s immune and stress response. However, when the participants of the study were allowed to take a nap, the hormone levels returned to normal.

Norepinephrine and Interleukin-6: Biomarkers for neuroendocrine and immune health


Norepinephrine


Think back to a very stressful situation in your life. Can you remember how your body responded? You likely experienced a rapid heartbeat and fast, shallow breathing. The reason for this is that our nervous system releases norepinephrine when stress occurs, so you can be prepared to respond. This is what’s commonly known as the “fight or flight” response.

Norepinephrine (a hormone and neurotransmitter) and adrenaline both release glucose into the bloodstream when stress occurs. This gives the body a burst of energy, boosting the heart and respiratory rate so that oxygen is more readily available to the cells. Norepinephrine and adrenaline boost blood flow to the heart, brain, and muscles as they are crucial for “fight or flight” action. High levels of norepinephrine on a continuous basis have been linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, tremors, depression, anxiety attacks, headaches, and heart palpitations.

Interleukin 6 (IL 6)


When infection, injury, and trauma strike our body, the immune system is triggered to release proteins called cytokines. Interleukin-6 (IL 6) is an important cytokine responsible for triggering the immune system to respond to viruses, infection, trauma, and cancer. When you are deficient in IL 6, it is suggested that your body is less able to fight against disease.

This study tells us that a short nap during the day may help to improve wakefulness despite insufficient sleep at night. What’s more, it could restore hormone and protein levels associated with neuroendocrine stress and immunity. This increase in important hormones and proteins can reverse negative side effects caused by insufficient sleep. One of the study authors, Brice Faraut concludes that “Napping may offer a way to counter the damaging effects of sleep restriction by helping the immune and neuroendocrine systems to recover...The findings support the development of practical strategies for addressing chronically sleep-deprived populations, such as night and shift workers.

References:

  1. Takahashi M, Arito H. Maintenance of alertness and performance by a brief nap after lunch under prior sleep deficit. Sleep. 2000;23: 813–819.
  2. Mednick S, Nakayama K, Stickgold R. Sleep-dependent learning: a nap is as good as a night. Nat Neurosci. 2003;6:697–698.