Regular naps could help to preserve cognitive health by slowing down brain shrinkage as we age, according to an exciting study by University College London (UCL).
It found that the brains of nappers were 15 cubic centimetres larger than their non-snoozing counterparts, something researchers estimate is equivalent to delaying ageing by between three and six years.
The findings add to previous data which links larger brain volume with good brain health, improved cognitive functioning and a lower risk of diseases such as dementia. Senior author Dr Victoria Garfield said: “Our findings suggest that, for some people, short daytime naps may be a part of the puzzle that could help preserve the health of the brain as we get older.”
The new research, published in the Journal of Sleep Health, highlights that poor sleep can damage the brain over time by causing inflammation and affecting the connections between brain cells.
It suggests that regular napping could be a protective factor against neurodegeneration by compensating for inadequate sleep. As a result, Dr Garfield is optimistic that the new findings might be a step in the direction of encouraging a culture of napping.
‘I hope studies such as this one showing the health benefits of short naps can help to reduce any stigma that still exists around daytime napping,’ she added.
Researchers used data from 35,000 UK adults to compare the brains of genetic ‘nappers’ with those of ‘non-nappers’, differentiating the two groups using evidence of genes associated with a proclivity for snoozing.
Still, the revelations aren’t necessarily a green light to tuck up in bed for good. Although the UCL study did not look at nap duration, the science suggests that naps of 30 minutes or less provide the best short-term cognitive benefits, while napping earlier in the day is less disruptive to sleep at night
The authors also noted that all participants were of white European ancestry, meaning the findings ‘might not be immediately generalisable to other ethnicities’.
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