We are a chronically sleep-deprived society and it's no secret that this is not good for our health, productivity or safety behind the wheel. Some forward-looking companies and individuals have embraced napping to compensate. Anecdotally, and from research, there is growing evidence that a mid-day nap makes up for a poor night's sleep and conveys a number of other benefits, as my colleague Matt McFarland explains in this post.

Nearly three in 10 adults reported on the National Health Interview Survey that they slept six hours a night or less.

Now researchers say they've shown the stress-relieving benefits of one of my favorite pastimes at the chemical level. A study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism contends that "napping has stress-releasing and immune effects. Napping could be easily applied in real settings as a counter-measure to the detrimental health consequences of sleep debt."

The researchers selected 11 healthy men, ages 25 to 32, who regularly slept seven to nine hours per night and were not in the habit of napping. They let them sleep for just two hours, from 2 to 4 a.m., on one night, then examined their saliva and urine for chemical signs of the impact. At another time, they let them sleep just two hours but allowed them to take two 30-minute naps, at 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., the following day.

They found 2.5 times the normal amount of norepinephrine, a hormone associated with stress, after the sleep-deprived night. Norepinephrine increases heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar levels, according to a news release from the journal.

When the men were allowed to nap, no increase in the hormone was detected.

Similarly, sleeplessness reduced levels of interleukin-6, a protein involved in the body's response to infection, but remained at normal levels when the men were allowed to nap.

I couldn't reach the study's lead author, Brice Faraut, of the Universite´ Paris Descartes-Sorbonne Paris Cite´, on Friday. In the news release, he said that "Napping may offer a way to counter the damaging effects of sleep restriction by helping the immune and neuroendocrine systems to recover."

With much of the country too cold and/or snowy for outdoor activity over the upcoming three-day weekend, this may be a great time to stay home and work on your immune and neuroendocrine systems.

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