Regular daytime nappers seem to have larger, healthier brains, according to a study

Improve decision making: Daytime naps could help

Historically, the advice surrounding napping has been conflicting, complex, and contingent on various factors. Napping has been criticized as disruptive to regular sleep patterns and associated with laziness, while others argue that segmented sleep patterns were natural for humans before the Industrial Era. The message has been to nap if necessary, but excessive napping could indicate underlying concerns.

However, it is important to acknowledge that some individuals may find it challenging or impossible to nap during the day. Additionally, many people who would benefit from regular naps may not have the opportunity or resources to do so due to time constraints or other limitations.

Nevertheless, the general consensus regarding napping suggests that planned and intentional naps can be beneficial, helpful, or at the very least, harmless for individuals who need to catch up on sleep during the day. It is recommended to keep naps relatively short, lasting between 20 to 30 minutes or no longer than 90 minutes to allow for a complete sleep cycle. Furthermore, naps should not be taken too late in the day or too close to bedtime to avoid interfering with nighttime sleep.

A study published in the journal Sleep Health in June 2023 explored an additional benefit of regular power naps, specifically their positive impact on brain health. This finding adds to the growing understanding of the potential advantages of incorporating napping into one’s routine.

Nappers Appear to Have Larger Total Brain Volume

A recent study conducted by researchers at the University College London and the University of the Republic in Uruguay aimed to explore the relationship between regular daytime napping and cognitive function. While previous observational studies have suggested a connection between napping and cognitive performance, the authors wanted to investigate further. Specifically, they wanted to determine whether daytime napping directly contributes to healthy cognition and larger brain volume in individuals who nap regularly compared to non-nappers.

To examine this, the researchers utilized a method called Mendelian randomization, analyzing genetic data from over 375,000 participants in the UK Biobank study. They focused on specific DNA variations associated with habitual napping and compared the cognitive health and brain structure, measured through MRI brain scans, of individuals with these genetic variations to those without.

Although the study did not definitively prove a causal relationship between daytime napping and improved brain health, it did highlight some significant findings. The analysis showed a clear positive link between napping and cognitive health, particularly in terms of visible differences in total brain volume, which naturally declines with age and affects cognitive abilities.

The brain scans revealed that regular nappers had larger overall brain volumes, averaging approximately 15 cubic centimeters more than non-nappers. Consequently, the brains of habitual nappers appeared to be “younger” by an estimated 2.6 to 6.5 years compared to the brains of non-nappers.

While more research is needed to establish a definitive causal relationship and understand the precise mechanisms behind these associations, this study provides valuable insights into the potential benefits of regular daytime napping for brain health.

When and How Long to Nap

So, when is the best time of day to take a nap, and how long should it be? While this particular study does not provide a specific nap prescription, it refers to previous research suggesting that shorter naps lasting 20 to 30 minutes, taken between 12 p.m. and 4 p.m., can help restore alertness by dissipating sleep pressure and promote memory consolidation, as stated in a systematic review conducted in 2022. The authors also mention a 2015 study that suggests the post-lunch period may be the most favorable time for a nap, as it can help counteract the temporary drop in alertness and performance during this time.

If you find yourself in need of some sleep and have the opportunity to nap in the early afternoon, consider this as encouragement to let go of any feelings of guilt or laziness and allow yourself to rest.

Leave a Reply