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There was a time when Greatist HQ had a room specifically designated for naps. We called it the “Zen room” and lined the floor with pillows, meditation cushions, and fuzzy blankets. It didn’t matter if it was 10:30 in the morning or 4:30 in the afternoon — the minute the computer screen started to look a little fuzzy, we knew where to head.

Then the company got bigger, and gradually, those naps took place amid a stash of giant medicine balls, while other people were using the room for meetings or phone calls. If we could catch even a few minutes of silent shut-eye, it was a miracle.

So when I heard about the “nap rooms” appearing on college campuses and in offices across the nation, I was intrigued. Given all the research that’s come out recently about the importance of sleep (and the hazards of sleep loss), it’s high time we all made snoozing a bigger priority.

What’s the Deal?

Trouble Sleeping

For a few years now, companies from Nike to Google have been building naptime into their schedules, with special rooms designed for daytime snoozing. Recently, The Huffington Post’s nap rooms were featured on the TODAY show. And word spread quickly about Harvard students’ new initiative to create a nap room in the basement of a University library.

There’s plenty of evidence behind the idea that not sleeping enough can hurt academic performance and productivity on the job . Sleep and academic performance in undergraduates: a multi-measure, multi-predictor approach. Gomes, A.A., Tavares, J., de Azevedo, M.H. Department of Education, University of Aveiro, Portugal. Chronobiology International 2011 Nov;28(9):786-801. The cost of poor sleep: workplace productivity loss and associated costs. Rosekind, M.R., Gregory, K.B., Mallis, M.M., et al. Alertness Solutions, Cupertino, Calif. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2010 Jan;52(1):91-8. . But recent research suggests the consequences of an all-nighter go beyond passing out during an exam or a meeting the following morning. One study, which has gotten a lot of attention over the past few weeks, suggests that a consistent lack of sleep can actually mess us up on a genetic level Effects of insufficient sleep on circadian rhythmicity and expression amplitude of the human blood transcriptome. Möller-Levet, C.S., Archer, S.N., Bucca, G., et al. Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Surrey, Guildford, United Kingdom. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 2013 Feb 25. . Just a few nights of too little sleep can contribute to long-term conditions including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, stress, and depression.

Other research suggests sleep loss may even manifest in a surprise on the scale: After a single night of sleep deprivation, people tend to be hungrier and choose larger portion sizes Acute sleep deprivation increases portion size and affects food choice in young men. Hogenkamp, P.S., Nilsson, E., Nilsson, V.C., et al. Department of Neuroscience, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. Psychoneuroendocrinology 2013 Feb 18. . On the other hand, those who sleep more are usually more successful at losing weight. But the biggest problem with sleep loss may be the fact that it’s often a vicious cycle.

Why It Matters

The relationship between sleep deprivation and poor eating habits can work both ways. While sleep loss may contribute to overeating, consuming too many calories or too much of the same type of grub may also be factors in not sleeping enough Dietary nutrients associated with short and long sleep duration. Data from a nationally representative sample. Grandner, M.A., Jackson, N., Gerstner, J.R., et al. Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Appetite 013 Jan 20;64C:71-80. . In one study, people who slept between five and six hours a night tended to consume the most calories, and people who slept a normal amount had the most variety in their diets. (The study didn’t specify whether sleeping too little caused a change in eating habits or vice versa.)

Sleep and physical activity are similarly intertwined. We generally feel pretty zonked after a night of too little sleep, certainly too tired even for a quick jog. But there’s evidence that exercise can actually help us sleep better, while sitting all day is linked to poor sleep quality. So by lazing on the couch the whole afternoon, we may only be setting ourselves up for another sleepless night.

That said, it’s important to remember that an afternoon snooze isn’t always the right way to make up for missed nighttime Zzs. The ideal nap lasts just 10 to 20 minutes, otherwise we start to fall into deeper states of sleep and have a hard time getting up again. (If 20 minutes doesn't feel like enough, try snoozing for 90 minutes to allow for the completion of a full REM cycle.) The better option is to snag about seven to nine hours of sleep per night — more than that and we actually risk getting too much sleep, which can also result in grogginess.

The Takeaway

Between work obligations and family life, it’s hardly easy to make “sleep more” the number-one item on the to-do list. But these studies remind us that bags under our eyes are far from the only negative consequence of sleep loss, and that adequate sleep is a crucial part of physical and mental health. The good news it isn’t necessary to change our whole lifestyle — sometimes it’s as simple as turning off the computer a little earlier, replacing an old mattress, or even catching a few mid-day winks.

Move over, everyone doing work in the Zen room — I need to take a nap.

Do you generally sleep at least seven hours per night? Or can you function on less sleep? Let us know in the comments below or tweet the author at @ShanaDLebowitz.

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