In the new study, taking a short nap helped relieve stress and strengthen immune system in men who slept only two hours at night.Evan/ Photo Extremist/Flickr

Napping can help neutralise adverse health outcomes associated with lack of sleep, says a new study.

Sleep plays a huge role in keeping a person healthy. Sound sleep is needed to increase production of brain support cells and myelin, a layer around the nerves which helps brain growth and repair. Sleep also plays a major role in clearing toxins and wastes from the brain.

Poor sleep has long been known to pose serious health effects. Research in the past has linked sleep problems to depression, heart problems, obesity, poor memory and concentration, lowered brain volume, prostate cancer, Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia and C-section.

In the new study, taking a short nap helped relieve stress and strengthen immune system in men who slept only two hours at night.

"Our data suggests a 30-minute nap can reverse the hormonal impact of a night of poor sleep," author of the study, Dr Brice Faraut, of the Université Paris Descartes-Sorbonne Paris Cité in Paris, France, said in a news release. "This is the first study that found napping could restore biomarkers of neuroendocrine and immune health to normal levels."

Eleven healthy men, aged between 25 and 32, were woken up two hours after sleeping and were kept awake rest of the night. In another session, participants followed the same sleep pattern, but were allowed to take two naps, each lasting 30 minutes, in the following day.

Urine and saliva samples were analysed to examine changes in hormone levels caused by poor sleep. Sleeping only for two hours was associated with 2.5 fold increase in norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter released by nervous system as a response to stress and a decline in interleukin-6, a cytokine which plays a huge role in immune response.

The stress hormone norepinephrine can cause an increase in blood pressure, blood sugar, heart rate and breathing rate. However, these negative effects couldn't be found when the participants took short naps.

"Napping may offer a way to counter the damaging effects of sleep restriction by helping the immune and neuroendocrine systems to recover," Faraut explained. "The findings support the development of practical strategies for addressing chronically sleep-deprived populations, such as night and shift workers."

The study has been reported in Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM).