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Short naps don’t make up for lost sleep, study finds

Researchers say sleeping through the night is important for your health

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Photo (c) Jose Luis Pelaez Inc - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Michigan State University explored how taking naps can help consumers struggling with sleep deprivation. According to their findings, consumers aren’t likely to make up for lost sleep by napping

“We are interested in understanding cognitive deficits associated with sleep deprivation,” said researcher Kimberly Fenn. “In this study, we wanted to know if a short nap during the deprivation period would mitigate these deficits. We found that short naps of 30 or 60 minutes did not show any measurable effects.” 

Sleeping through the night is important

For the study, the researchers had 275 participants involved in a sleep-based experiment. Prior to sleeping, the participants completed tasks that allowed the researchers to get a baseline assessment of their cognitive function. The participants were then divided into three groups: one group stayed awake all night and was allowed to nap the next day for 30 or 60 minutes, one group stayed awake all night and didn’t nap the next day, and the third group slept as they normally would through the night. The groups then completed another round of cognitive assessments to determine how short naps impacted their cognition. 

The researchers learned that napping after a night of poor sleep didn’t lead to better outcomes on the cognitive assessments. They say this indicates that sleep deprivation isn’t likely to be cured by a short nap. 

The team explained that slow-wave sleep (SWS) is the most restful stage of sleep. However, this study showed that the participants either weren’t likely to reach SWS during these short naps or didn’t stay in SWS long enough to get the benefits. This is likely what led to poorer cognitive outcomes after a night of sleep deprivation. The opposite was also true: the more time the participants spent in SWS, the better their scores were on the cognitive assessments. 

“SWS is the most important stage of sleep,” said Fenn. “When someone goes without sleep for a period of time, even just during the day, they build up a need for sleep; in particular, they build up a need for sleep; in particular, they build up a need for SWS. When individuals go to sleep each night, they will soon enter into SWS and spend a substantial amount of time in this stage.

“Individuals who obtained more SWS tended to show reduced errors on both tasks,” Fenn continued. “However, they still showed worse performance than the participants who slept.” 

Moving forward, the researchers hope these findings highlight the importance of consumers getting a full night of sleep. While a short nap may seem like the easiest way to catch up on lost sleep, consumers are still likely to struggle with focusing and other cognitive skills the following day. 

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