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nodding off gifSo if you’re not getting enough quality sleep at night – for whatever the reason – you might think that squeezing in a little nap might at least help you stay sharp through the day. But if the results of a new study in the journal Sleep pan out, that may be wishful thinking.

For the study, 280 participants were randomly separated into two groups: one that was assigned to stay up all night and one that was instructed to go home and sleep.

The next day, those in the sleep deprived group were randomly assigned to a no nap group, a 30 minute nap group, or a 60 minute nap group. Nappers were set up to have their sleep quality evaluated by polysomnography. All were then given a placekeeping task and a vigilant attention task to evaluate cognitive performance.

It’s no surprise that sleep deprived participants performed worse on both tests. What is surprising is that napping didn’t seem to help, though the performance deficits weren’t quite as bad for nappers who spent more time in slow wave sleep – “the deepest and most restorative stage of sleep.”

“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,” [study co-author Kimberly] Fenn says. “However, every 10-minute increase in SWS reduced errors after interruptions by about 4%.”

These numbers may seem small but when considering the types of errors that are likely to occur in sleep-deprived operators—like those of surgeons, police officers, or truck drivers—a 4% decrease in errors could potentially save lives, Fenn says.

But getting enough good quality sleep isn’t just important for mental performance. Your oral health can depend on it, as well. Earlier research has found, for instance, that sleep loss may be second only to smoking as a risk factor for gum disease. While more recent studies haven’t ranked sleep debt in the same way, they do confirm just how important sleep is.

man sleeping soundlyConsider, for instance, the Journal of Periodontology study that analyzed data from more than 3600 American adults over the age of 30. Overall, the research team found that those who got more than 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night were 40% less likely to have periodontitis, or severe gum disease.

This relationship between sleep and gum disease was even stronger for participants who also had diabetes. (Those two conditions really go hand-in-hand, with yet another study recently confirming that periodontal treatment may improve some diabetic symptoms.)

For more on sleep and gum health – and tips for improving the quality of your sleep, see our earlier post here.

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