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Prairie Fare: Snooze Your Way to Better Health

The latest sleep research making the news suggests that a 30-minute power nap can offset the wide array of effects of a poor night’s sleep.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

“I need a nap,” a college-age man said to his friend. I overheard him as I walked out to my vehicle after work.

A 5 p.m. nap sounded a little strange to me, but I know that sleep schedules during college years vary a lot. If I took a nap at 5 p.m., I would be awake until 3 a.m. Maybe that was his plan.

The latest sleep research making the news suggests that a 30-minute power nap can offset the wide array of effects of a poor night’s sleep.

The study involved 11 healthy men ages 25 to 32 whose sleep was limited to two hours per night. After being limited to two hours of sleep, the men in the study were treated to two 30-minute naps. The researchers measured blood levels of certain hormones, and they found that the damaging effects of loss of sleep were reversed with the relatively short naps.

Sleep deprivation can upset hormones that affect our blood pressure and heart rate. Our immune system also is affected negatively if we are short on sleep, so we might get colds more easily.

In another study, a 40-minute nap improved the alertness of sleepy military pilots and astronauts by 100 percent and their performance by 34 percent, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Another research group found that a 10-minute nap might help with thinking tasks, too. The researchers noted that people who nap too long might get “sleep inertia.”

I have experienced that foggy-brained inertia state when I accidentally fall asleep watching TV. Then I struggle to do something that involves thinking, such as writing a newspaper column that I didn’t finish during work time.

Getting too little sleep can have many negative health effects. Insomnia may play a role in the development of diabetes and high blood pressure. People who get too little sleep may gain weight because insomnia affects the balance of two appetite-managing hormones known as leptin and ghrelin. One tells your brain you are full, and the other one says you are hungry.

Take a nap when you need one, but try these tips to help you get enough sleep on a regular basis:

  • Keep a regular sleep schedule, even on weekends. Aim for seven or eight hours. If you struggle with insomnia regularly, be sure to visit with a health-care provider to discuss treatment options.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol and caffeinated foods or beverages before bed. Some researchers promote having a small portion of a carbohydrate- and protein-rich snack. Be cautious on the volume of liquid you consume before bedtime or you might be awakened for other reasons.
  • Maintain your bedroom at an appropriate temperature, not too cold or too warm.
  • Sign off from your technology (computer, tablet, cellphone) at least an hour before bedtime. The light from the screen can signal your brain to awaken. Read a magazine or book, but not

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a scary thriller that leaves you lying wide-eyed, staring at the ceiling and clutching your blanket.

A little comfort food might be in order before you settle in to relax and snooze. Cooked rice made with protein-rich milk might fill the bill as an insomnia fighter. In a 2014 study of 1,848 Japanese men and women, researchers reported that those who ate the most rice had the fewest sleep issues. Here’s a dessert or bedtime snack courtesy of Purdue Extension.

Rice Pudding

1 c. low-fat or fat-free milk

1 c. water

1 c. rice, uncooked

2 large eggs

1 c. evaporated fat-free milk (divided)

1 tsp. vanilla

1/4 c. sugar

1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon

In a saucepan, heat milk and water. Add rice and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, and stir every 10 minutes. Cook uncovered until rice is tender, about 30 minutes. In a large bowl, mix eggs, 3/4 cup evaporated milk, vanilla and sugar. Set aside. Add remaining 1/4 cup of evaporated milk to rice mixture. Spoon 1 cup of rice mixture into egg mixture and stir. Pour egg-rice mixture into remaining rice. Heat pudding until it boils, stirring continuously. Remove from heat and sprinkle with cinnamon.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 155 calories, 1 gram (g) of fat, 6.5 g of protein, 29 g of carbohydrate, 0 g of fiber and 68 milligrams of sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication – Feb. 12, 2015

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, richard.mattern@ndsu.edu
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