Overcome sleep woes with simple, drug-free action plan

It's tough to get a full night's sleep sometimes -- and when you don't the damage goes far beyond feeling crummy all day. Poor sleep can literally throw your hormones out of whack, and missing out night after night can lead to serious long-term damage.

But new research finds a way to reverse that damage -- in as little as 30 minutes.

In the study, men limited to just two hours of sleep a night saw their levels of the hormone norepinephrine jump by 250 percent.

That's a stress hormone involved in your body's "flight or fight" response. It's handy in an emergency, but not the best thing to have rising all day as it causes your heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar levels to jump.

The sleepless men also saw drops in their levels of the interleukin-6 protein essential to the immune system.

Take a 30-minute nap, however, and all that damage will practically vanish, according to the study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

That's the good news. And of course napping comes with other refreshing and rejuvenating benefits.

But let's not get too carried away.

The men in this study went through some pretty extreme sleep deprivation exercises and only for a few nights. Out in the real world, less extreme lapses of sleep on a nightly basis can do the kind of damage that a 30-minute doze almost certainly won't be able to fix.

So if you've been losing sleep night after night, don't take a nap. Take action.

First, consider natural therapies such as the "sleep hormone" melatonin and herbal remedies such as chamomile or passionflower.

And second, seek the help of a holistic medical doctor. Sleep problems usually have a cause -- and until you find and fix it, you'll never truly get the rest you need.