March is Sleep Awareness Month: The Power of a Power Nap

IMG_1974The National Sleep Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated the improvement of health and well-being through sleep education and advocacy, is celebrating its 25th birthday this year. As part of this celebration, it has released a massive study regarding recommended sleep times. You can read more on this here.

In their study, the National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get about seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Many of us know what it’s like to feel tired the next day after getting less than seven hours of sleep – perhaps even a lot less than seven hours – but the consequences of short-term and long-term sleep deprivation can be a lot more severe than you might think.

The Effects of Not Sleeping Enough

Sleep deprivation is simply the condition of not having enough sleep. It can arise from simple day-to-day occasions, like having a newborn wake you up frequently or drinking a cup of coffee too close to bedtime, but it can also be caused by underlying sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea.

The consequences of short term sleep deprivation are probably very familiar:

  • Decreased alertness
  • Memory and cognitive impairment
  • Reduced capacity for sustained attention

The impact these side effects have on your day-to-day life may be mundane, like zoning out during an important conversation or nodding off at your job. However, the consequences of sleep deprivation can also be more severe. For instance, working while sleep deprived actually doubles your chances of occupational injury. Even more sobering, the drowsiness that accompanies sleep deprivation accounts for approximately 100,000 automobile crashes, 71,000 crash-related injuries, and 1,550 crash-related fatalities each year.

Sleep deprivation over a long period of time can also have more serious and devastating effects on your health:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Obesity
  • Psychiatric problems, including depression and other mood disorders
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder

Losing sleep hardly seems like it could cause such serious conditions, but the simple truth is that getting too little sleep can have far-reaching and drastic consequences on your health. Studies have even found that sleeping 5 hours or less increased an individual’s mortality rate (from any cause) by 15%.

While the short-term side effects of sleep deprivation were probably familiar to you, the long term conditions may seem totally unrelated or may even seem sensationalist. However, the body does some amazing things while you are sleeping and missing out on sleep can have some equally shocking effects on the way your body functions.

For example, norepinephrine is the hormone responsible for your body’s fight-or-flight response. The fight-or-flight response is basically the body’s way of kicking into overdrive by accelerating your heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar. Sleep deprivation actually increases your levels of norepinephrine 2.5 times beyond normal levels! This puts a lot of stress on your body and can lead to conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

And if you’re worried about catching this year’s flu or the cold that’s been going around the office, the same study also found that sleep deprivation can make you significantly more susceptible to disease. Being sleep deprived reduces levels of a protein with antiviral properties called interleukin-6 and impairs your immune response.

The Power of a Power Nap

So if you’ve lost a night’s worth of sleep and your body is hurting, what can you do? Conventional wisdom says you should take a nap, and the science confirms that. The aforementioned study found that taking a half-hour nap during the day after a night of getting just 2 hours of sleep returned norepinephrine and interleukin-6 levels to normal.

Of course, taking a nap isn’t always an option, and napping is definitely not a solution if you have a serious condition such as sleep apnea or any of the other approximately 90 sleeping disorders. If you have been having trouble getting a good night’s rest or think you may have a sleep disorder, you should seek medical advice from a qualified, experienced health professional like the ones within Meritage Medical Network. If you’d like to speak to someone about your sleeping habits, you can use the convenient “find a doctor” feature on our homepage to find a health care professional or specialist near you.

References:

Breus, M. J., & Meyers, S. J. (2006, March 15). Sleep habits: More important than you think. WebMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/important-sleep-habits

Colten H.R., & Altevogt, B.M. (2006). Extent and health consequences of chronic sleep loss and sleep disorders. Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19961/

National Sleep Foundation. (2015). How much sleep do we really need? National Sleep Foundation. Retrieved from https://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need.

The Endocrine Society. (2015, February 10). Napping reverses health effects of poor sleep. Eureka Alert! Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-02/tes-nrh020615.php.

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