Sleep: Quick naps WON’T make up for a bad night’s kip, study warns

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Had a bad night’s sleep? Scientists say that taking a 30-minute nap WON’T make up the difference

  • Researchers from Michigan State University gave 275 subjects cognitive tests
  • The tests were given first in the evening and then repeated in the next morning
  • Overnight, subjects either slept, were kept awake or were allowed to nap once
  • Those who stayed up all or most of the night made more mistakes in the morning
  • But reaching deep sleep while napping was associated with mild improvements










Having a 30-minute power nap during the middle of the day won’t make up for not getting a good night’s sleep, a study has determined.

In tests involved 275 participants, Michigan State University experts measured the extent to which sleep deprivation led to cognitive impairment. 

They found that short naps to be only associated with slight relief from sleep deprivation — and, then, only in those cases where deep sleep was reached. 

According to the team, their study is one of the first to evaluate the usefulness of taking short naps — which are often all that people have time to fit into their days.

Having a 30-minute power nap during the middle of the day won't make up for not getting a good night's sleep, a study has determined. Pictured: a man takes a nap (stock image)

Having a 30-minute power nap during the middle of the day won’t make up for not getting a good night’s sleep, a study has determined. Pictured: a man takes a nap (stock image)

‘We are interested in understanding cognitive deficits associated with sleep deprivation,’ said paper author Kimberly Fenn of the Michigan State University.

‘In this study, we wanted to know if a short nap during the deprivation period would mitigate these deficits.

In their study, the researchers recruited 275 college-aged volunteers and had them complete a series of cognitive tests twice — once in the evening, and then again the following morning. However, what the subjects did in between the tests varied.

One group of the volunteers was sent home to get a good night’s sleep, while the others remained in the lab overnight — staying awake all night in one case, and being allowed to take a 30- or 60-minute nap in the other case.

The tests were designed to test both attention and so-called placekeeping — the ability to complete tasks in a set order even when interrupted. 

‘The group that stayed overnight and took short naps still suffered from the effects of sleep deprivation and made significantly more errors on the tasks than their counterparts who went home and obtained a full night of sleep,’ Professor Fenn said.

‘However, every 10-minute increase in slow-wave sleep reduced errors after interruptions by about 4 per cent.’ 

Slow-wave sleep is the deepest and most restorative stage of sleep — characterised by high amplitude, low frequency brain waves — during which our muscles fully relax, and our heart rate and respiration reach their slowest levels.

‘Slow-wave sleep is the most important stage of sleep,’ explained Professor 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 slow-wave sleep,’ she added.

‘When individuals go to sleep each night, they will soon enter into slow-wave sleep and spend a substantial amount of time in this stage.’

These small improvements, the researchers noted, could mean the difference between life and death when considering the risks of sleep deprivation in professions like long-distance truck drivers, police officers or surgeons. 

Professor Fenn said that she hopes the findings highlight the importance of giving priority to sleep — alongside acknowledging that daytime naps, even if they include slow-wave sleep, cannot serve as a replacement for a proper night’s sleep.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Sleep.  

HOW TO COPE WITH SLEEP PROBLEMS

Poor sleep can lead to worrying and worrying can lead to poor sleep, according to the mental-health charity Mind.

A lack of shut eye is considered a problem when it impacts on a person’s daily life.

As a result, they may feel anxious if they believe lack of sleep prevents them from rationalising their thoughts.

Insomnia is also associated with depression, psychosis and PTSD.

Establishing a sleep routine where you go to bed and get up at the same time every day can help a person spend less time in bed and more time asleep.

Calming music, breathing exercises, visualising pleasant memories and meditation also encourage shut eye. 

Having tech-free time an hour or so before bed can also prepare you for sleep. 

If you still struggle to nod off, keeping a sleep diary where you record the hours you spend asleep and the quality of your shut eye on a scale of one to five can be a good thing to show your doctor.

Also note how many times you wake in the night, if you need to nap, if you have nightmares, your diet and your general mood.

Sleep problems can be a sign of an underlying physical condition, like pain.

Talking therapies can help your recongise unhelpful thought patterns that might affect sleep.

While medication, such as sleeping pills, can help break short periods of insomnia and help you return to better a sleeping pattern. 

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