According to a report by The Guardian on June 20th, 2023, researchers have discovered a connection between taking short naps and a decrease in brain shrinkage. This suggests that napping during the day may be beneficial in maintaining brain health as one ages.
Previous research suggested that long naps may be an early symptom of Alzheimer’s disease , but other studies have revealed that short naps may improve people’s ability to learn. In this new study, the researchers say they have found evidence that napping may help protect against brain shrinkage.
The research team states that the significance of this discovery lies in the fact that brain shrinkage, which naturally occurs as people age, happens faster in individuals with cognitive issues and neurodegenerative diseases. Additionally, some studies suggest that this shrinkage could be linked to sleep problems.
According to researchers from the University College London (UCL) and the University of the Republic in Uruguay, there is a notable connection between regular daytime napping and larger total brain volume. This may indicate that regular napping helps to protect against neurodegeneration and make up for lack of sleep.
A recent study published in Sleep Health looked at information from individuals aged 40 to 69. They compared brain health and cognitive measures in individuals who have a genetic tendency to take naps versus those who do not have this genetic tendency. Data from 35,080 participants in the UK Biobank study was used for the comparison.
The effect of napping on the brain
By randomly determining fetal variants at birth, this method enables researchers to examine how napping affects the brain while minimizing the impact of lifestyle factors like smoking or physical activity, which can affect people’s napping patterns and brain health.
“It’s like a normal randomized control trial,” said study co-author Dr. Victoria Garfield from University College London, adding that these variants are very common. “It is present in at least 1% of the population, and this percentage includes a very large number of people,” she said.
Overall, the team found an association between genetic predisposition to habitual daytime naps and brain size. They found that the average difference in brain size between people with a genetic predisposition to napping and those without, equated to 2.6 to 6.5 years of old age.
Victoria suggests that taking a brief nap during the day can have a positive impact on maintaining brain volume and potentially reduce the risk of dementia.
However, she pointed out that there are a large number of risk factors that can lead to dementia, while many other factors may also affect brain size. Moreover, the study is based on data from white Britons only, and the exact length of naps that yield these benefits is unclear.