Napping might be seen as lazy, but it shouldn’t have that stigma anymore: Taking a couple hours to fall asleep in the afternoon might actually have more health benefits than you think.
In a new study published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM), researchers found that a short nap could reverse the negative health effects of a night of poor sleep, and also reduce stress and bolster the immune system. In a day and age when people don’t seem to be getting enough sleep — one in three adults report they sleep an average of six or less hours a night, according to the National Health Interview Survey — taking naps occasionally could help mitigate the effects of sleep deprivation.
“Our data suggests a 30-minute nap can reverse the hormonal impact of a night of poor sleep,” Brice Faraut of the Université Paris Descartes-Sorbonne Paris Cité, an author of the study, said in the press release. “This is the first study that found napping could restore biomarkers of neuroendocrine and immune health to normal levels.”
The researchers had 11 healthy men between the ages of 25 and 32 undergo two 3-day sessions of sleep testing in a lab, where meals and lighting were controlled. In the first session, the men were limited to two hours of sleep for one of the three nights. In the second session, one night only allowed for two hours of sleep, but the next day the participants were able to take two 30-minute naps throughout the day. Each session had an eight-hour sleep frame for the first night, and unlimited sleep the last night.
The researchers examined the participants’ saliva and urine to measure hormone levels and see how napping, or not napping, affected them. After a two-hour night of sleep, the men had a 2.5-fold increase in levels of norepinephrine, a hormone that’s involved in stress and increases the body’s heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar. But on days that they napped for a half hour, the levels were normal. In addition, levels of interleukin-6 — a protein with antiviral elements — typically drops after a night of no sleep, but in the participants who napped, the levels remained normal.
Other studies have found that napping is better for you than previously imagined. One recent study found that naps helped students improve their memory: Taking a nap after studying helped them retain the information they just learned, more so than students who didn’t nap. Napping can also increase alertness, performance, and productivity. It also has emotional and psychological benefits: Taking even a quick cat nap can allow a person to escape from daily stresses for a short time, rejuvenate and refresh themselves, then face the rest of the day with renewed vigor. Sometimes, coffee or nap breaks are essential to get through a tough day of work or studying — and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it.
“Napping may offer a way to counter the damaging effects of sleep restriction by helping the immune and neuroendocrine systems to recover,” Faraut said in the press release. “The findings support the development of practical strategies for addressing chronically sleep-deprived populations, such as night and shift workers.”
Sleep deprivation is a real problem, and consistent lack of sleep can cause both physical and psychological ailments, including chronic issues like obesity, diabetes, stress, and cognitive impairment. People who lack sleep are also more likely to develop depression.
While not all companies are as kind as Google when it comes to work-life balance for employees, perhaps this research about the benefits of naps can at least inspire employers to improve their work environments. While you might not have to purchase special egg-shaped EnergyPods like Google (which allows employees to cocoon themselves in "pods" to take brief naps during the day to feel rejuvenated and improve performance), allowing your employees to take walks, naps, and breaks throughout the day will only be beneficial for you.