Hardly Slept Last Night? Here's How Long You Should Nap

Here's some excellent news for people who don't get enough sleep (a.k.a. nearly everyone): New research suggests that, yes, a nap will definitely make you feel more awake, and it might also reverse some of the effects of stress.

In the small study, published online this week in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 11 participants between the ages of 25 and 32 (all male, unfortunately) underwent two three-day sessions of sleep testing. On the first night, participants got a baseline eight hours of sleep. Then, the next night, they were restricted to just two hours of shut-eye. The following day, they either got to take two 30-minute naps or had to just stick it out. Then, participants got unlimited sleep the next night. The researchers took urine and saliva samples to measure participants' hormone levels at each stage.

The results showed that participants had higher levels of norepinephrine, a hormone involved in revving up our physiological responses to stress, after the night of limited sleep. But, the levels were normal in participants who'd gotten to nap. Similarly, levels of interleukin-6 (a key component of the immune system that's also involved in regulating many other processes) were significantly lower after the bad night's sleep, but normalized after the 30-minute naps. 

Of course, this study involved only a small number of participants, so we can only take the results so far. And, there are a lot of other serious consequences of skipping sleep — especially if it's becoming a habit — that aren't addressed here, and that may require a full eight hours of snooze-time to reverse. Then there's the question of practicality: Even if we truly need it, how many of us can really slip away for a short snooze twice a day? Still, it's nice to be reminded of the truly awesome power of creative nap-taking; we'll take whatever excuse we can get.

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