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Taking regular naps can preserve brain health and slow aging, new study reveals

HQ Team

June 24, 2023: Scientists from University College London and the University of the Republic in Uruguay have uncovered a link between regular napping and brain health. According to their study, published in the journal Sleep Health, daytime napping can potentially preserve brain health and slow down age-related brain shrinkage.

Sleep data from participants aged 40 to 69 revealed that napping had a positive impact on brain health and demonstrated the potential to counteract the natural aging process. “We are suggesting that everybody could potentially experience some benefit from napping,” explained Senior author Dr Victoria Garfield (MRC Unit for Lifelong Health & Ageing at UCL), adding that the findings are “very new and very exciting.”

Regular nap benefits

Although napping is a vital part of infant development, its frequency tends to decrease as we age. However, the study suggests that embracing regular naps during adulthood may hold key benefits. In fact, after retirement, approximately 27% of individuals over the age of 65 incorporate napping into their daily routines.

Napper traits

To investigate the effects of napping, the researchers conducted a natural experiment using a technique called Mendelian randomisation.  They looked at 97 snippets of DNA thought to determine people’s likelihood of habitual napping. They compared measures of brain health and cognition of people who are more genetically “programmed” to nap with counterparts who did not have these genetic variants, using data from 378,932 people from the UK Biobank study, they found that, overall, people predetermined to nap had a larger total brain volume.

Participants who exhibited the genetic “napper” trait had brains that were approximately 15 cubic centimeters (0.9 cubic inches) larger than those without the trait. This difference in brain volume is equivalent to slowing down the aging process by three to six years.

The study highlights the small but significant increase in brain volume associated with napping and underscores the importance of sleep in maintaining brain health. Although the researchers did not specifically examine the effects of long, deep daytime sleep, they recommend limiting naps to no more than half an hour to avoid potential negative effects.

Neural health and napping

While the exact impact of napping on preventing diseases like Alzheimer’s remains uncertain and requires further research, scientists emphasize the importance of maintaining good overall brain health. Aging naturally leads to brain shrinkage, and poor sleep quality has been associated with dementia. Inadequate sleep may contribute to brain inflammation and disruptions in neural connections over time.

A study examining the effects of short daytime naps on productivity found that individuals who took regular naps demonstrated increased productivity and improved cognitive performance compared to non-nappers.

Ultimately, quality sleep is essential for overall well-being and restoration. Changes in sleep patterns, such as increased daytime sleepiness or the need for more sleep at night, could be indicative of underlying health problems. Therefore, maintaining a balanced approach to sleep, including moderate napping when needed, may support brain health and promote overall vitality.

1 Comment

  • Giriprakash June 26, 2023

    Very informative article.

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