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The Power of the Power Nap

Feb 11, 2015 05:30 PM EST

If you've ever laid down quickly for some shuteye in the middle of the day after a late night out, you know it can do wonders. That because of the power of the power nap, as new research shows, which can help relieve stress and bolster the immune system.

A lack of sleep is something we've all had to deal with at times. About three in 10 adults reportedly sleep an average of six hours or less a night, according to a National Health Interview Survey. This tiredness, the CDC says, can contribute to reduced productivity and car accidents, as well as chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and depression.

However, for all you night owls or workaholics out there, there's hope in the form of a good nap.

"Our data suggests a 30-minute nap can reverse the hormonal impact of a night of poor sleep," researcher Brice Faraut, of the Université Paris Descartes-Sorbonne Paris Cité in France, said in a statement. "This is the first study that found napping could restore biomarkers of neuroendocrine and immune health to normal levels."

To determine the relationship between sleep and hormone levels in the body, researchers conducted a randomized study involving a group of 11 healthy men, aged 25 to 32. The participants underwent two sessions of sleep testing in a lab where meals and lighting were controlled. In both cases, the men were only allowed to sleep for two hours, except the second time around they could take two, 30-minute power naps the next day.

The researchers found that levels of norepinephrine, a hormone that increases the body's heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar, remained stable after a nap, whereas the levels spiked when a nap was not allowed.

In addition, levels of interleukin-6 - which has antiviral properties - were normal when the subjects were allowed to nap. This suggests naps can even be beneficial for the immune system.

"Napping may offer a way to counter the damaging effects of sleep restriction by helping the immune and neuroendocrine systems to recover," Faraut said. "The findings support the development of practical strategies for addressing chronically sleep-deprived populations, such as night and shift workers."

So the next time you lay down for a siesta, know that when your head hits the pillow you may be sleeping your way to better health.

The findings were published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

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