As small children, we all fought our parents about taking naps.
We were so afraid we might somehow miss something exciting that we would struggle to stay awake as long as possible, until sheer exhaustion finally won out. Now that we are adults, it seems as though we would give almost anything to stop in the middle of the day for a nice long nap. The Spanish concept of a siesta – a two-hour rest period in the middle of the day after lunch – seems almost too good to be true.1
Unfortunately, the siesta has not become part of mainstream American culture.
Instead, we struggle to stay awake through a full day at work and commute time, five days out of the week. Add in time for dinner and relaxing with the family, and it’s little wonder we stumble through our day feeling like we are about to nod off.
What can be done about this problem? In fact, our Spanish friends may have had the right idea all along. Napping during the day has some surprising health benefits. Read further to see why a catnap in the middle of your hectic day helps you feel energized and refreshed.
If you have ever had a swollen arm, foot, or leg following an accident, the swelling is part of the body’s natural defense mechanisms to prevent further damage. If the body senses soft tissue damage, such as from a fall, white blood cells and other anti-inflammatory substances (caked cytokines) will rush to the site of the injury to fight off any foreign bodies that could cause infection.
This process is called an immune response. However, there are some diseases in which the immune system goes into overdrive and starts the immune response process when there has not actually been an injury. These autoimmune diseases include fibromyalgia, lupus, cardiac disease, diabetes, and arthritis.
What does napping have to do with this? As stated above, cytokines play a crucial role in helping the body fight off infection. However, patients who suffer from autoimmune disorders also often have chronic insomnia as a result of pain.
A 2007 article in the journal Sleep Medicine Clinics looked at the connection between chronic elevated cytokine levels and chronic inflammation.2 The researchers found that subjects with chronic elevated cytokine levels and chronic inflammation were also likely to have chronic insomnia.
Reduces obesity risk
Your patients probably all have made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight.
However, one of the most surefire ways for them to undo all the work is by not getting enough sleep. A 1999 Lancet article that looked at carbohydrate metabolism, thyroid function, hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis activity, and sympathovagal balance in 11 healthy young men who were restricted to four hours of sleep for six nights.3
At the end of the sixth night, measurements were taken, and then participants were allowed 12 nights in bed for another six nights. The researchers found that glucose tolerance and sympathetic nervous system activity were both increased during the sleep-debt period. They surmised a connection between lack of sleep, and carbohydrate metabolism and endocrine function.3
The practical upshot of these studies is to show that the body is working hard at repairing itself during sleep. Even a quick nap can help refresh you and give your brain a chance to reset,
- History of the siesta.org. Accessed 1/17/2017.
- Basta M, Chrousos GP, Vela-Bueno A, Vgontzas AN. (2007). CHRONIC INSOMNIA AND STRESS SYSTEM. Sleep Medicine Clinics, 2(2), 279-291.
- Spiegel K1, Leproult R, Van Cauter E. (1999). Impact of sleep debt on metabolic and endocrine function. Lancet. Oct 23, 354(9188), 1435-1439.