Daytime napping after a night of sleep loss decreases sleepiness, improves performance, and causes beneficial changes in cortisol and interleukin-6 secretion

A N Vgontzas, S Pejovic, E Zoumakis, H M Lin, E O Bixler, M Basta, J Fang, A Sarrigiannidis, G P Chrousos
American Journal of Physiology. Endocrinology and Metabolism 2007, 292 (1): E253-61
Sleep loss has been associated with increased sleepiness, decreased performance, elevations in inflammatory cytokines, and insulin resistance. Daytime napping has been promoted as a countermeasure to sleep loss. To assess the effects of a 2-h midafternoon nap following a night of sleep loss on postnap sleepiness, performance, cortisol, and IL-6, 41 young healthy individuals (20 men, 21 women) participated in a 7-day sleep deprivation experiment (4 consecutive nights followed by a night of sleep loss and 2 recovery nights). One-half of the subjects were randomly assigned to take a midafternoon nap (1400-1600) the day following the night of total sleep loss. Serial 24-h blood sampling, multiple sleep latency test (MSLT), subjective levels of sleepiness, and psychomotor vigilance task (PVT) were completed on the fourth (predeprivation) and sixth days (postdeprivation). During the nap, subjects had a significant drop in cortisol and IL-6 levels (P < 0.05). After the nap they experienced significantly less sleepiness (MSLT and subjective, P < 0.05) and a smaller improvement on the PVT (P < 0.1). At that time, they had a significant transient increase in their cortisol levels (P < 0.05). In contrast, the levels of IL-6 tended to remain decreased for approximately 8 h (P = 0.1). We conclude that a 2-h midafternoon nap improves alertness, and to a lesser degree performance, and reverses the effects of one night of sleep loss on cortisol and IL-6. The redistribution of cortisol secretion and the prolonged suppression of IL-6 secretion are beneficial, as they improve alertness and performance.

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