Regularly making time for a brief snooze is considered beneficial for our brain and helps maintain its size for an extended period.
It was observed by the team that the brains of those who took naps were found to be 15 cubic centimeters (0.9 cubic inches) larger, which is equivalent to aging delay ranging from three to six years.
Nevertheless, it is recommended by the scientists that naps should be kept to under half an hour. However, it is noted that a daytime nap can be challenging in many professions, as it is often discouraged by workplace culture.
“We are suggesting that potential benefits from napping can be experienced by everyone,” stated Dr. Victoria Garfield, describing the findings as “rather innovative and quite exciting.”
Napping has been demonstrated to be crucial for infant development, becomes less frequent as we grow older, and then experiences a resurgence in popularity during retirement, with 27% of individuals over 65 reporting daytime naps.
Dr. Garfield indicates that the advice to nap is “a relatively simple step” compared to weight loss or exercise, which can be “challenging for many people.”
The brain naturally undergoes shrinkage with age, but further research will be required to determine whether napping could potentially assist in preventing diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Overall brain health plays a vital role in guarding against dementia, as the condition is connected to disrupted sleep.
The researchers propose that inadequate sleep, over time, harms the brain by causing inflammation and disrupting the connections between brain cells.
“Consequently, regular napping might potentially shield against neurodegeneration by compensating for inadequate sleep,” as stated by researcher Valentina Paz.
However, Dr. Garfield is not inclined to locate a comfortable spot for napping at work and prefers alternative methods to care for her brain.
“Honestly, I would rather allocate 30 minutes to exercise than napping; I will most likely recommend that my mother follows suit.”
The napping study challange
Health may be boosted by napping, but, conversely, our health can be impacted to the extent that more frequent napping becomes necessary due to fatigue.
Thus, a clever technique was employed by the researchers to demonstrate the benefits of napping.
A vast natural experiment was employed, based on the DNA – the genetic code – with which we are inherently equipped. Ninety-seven segments of our DNA that predispose us either to become nappers or to endure the day without napping have been identified in prior research.
Consequently, data from 35,000 individuals, aged 40 to 69, participating in the UK Biobank project, was employed, and a straightforward comparison was made between those genetically categorized as “nappers” and “non-nappers.”
The results, as reported in the journal Sleep Health, revealed a 15 cubic centimeter distinction, equivalent to an aging delay of 2.6 to 6.5 years. Total brain volumes in the study encompassed approximately 1,480 cubic centimeters.
“I enjoy brief naps on weekends, and this study has persuaded me not to regard napping as laziness; it may even serve to safeguard my brain,” Professor Tara Spires-Jones, representing the University of Edinburgh and the British Neuroscience Association as its president, conveyed to me.
She remarked that the “intriguing” findings of the study indicated a “modest yet meaningful increase in brain volume” and “contributes to the body of evidence highlighting the significance of sleep in maintaining brain health.”
Direct examination of prolonged daytime slumber was not conducted by the researchers; however, the scientific evidence pointed toward a recommended limit of half an hour.
What does science say?
Nasa precisely finds that 26minutes of napping is the most optimal time for naps.
The space agency found that pilots who slept in the cockpit for 26 minutes showed alertness improvements of up to 54% and job-performance improvements by 34%, compared to pilots who didn’t nap.
But 26 minutes might be a little long for the uninitiated so NASA actually suggest taking power naps between 10 and 20 minutes long. We’ll get the most benefit from a sleep cycle without any of the grogginess associated with longer sleeping periods.
Beyond the aviation sector, the challenge of combating fatigue is one that impacts many individuals in various professions, regardless of whether they work during the day or night. However, inherent risks are associated with occupations that involve driving or operating machinery.
Nevertheless, doubts are expressed by other experts regarding the optimal duration of a 26-minute nap.
It is considered somewhat lengthy and poses the risk of entering into a deep sleep, according to Jim Horne, who serves as the director of the Sleep Research Council in the UK, an organization advising the government on guidelines for drivers.
“What we recommend is the combination of a nap with a cup of coffee to introduce some caffeine, which typically takes around 20 minutes to take effect.
“Consume a cup of coffee and rest your head. When done together, it yields a more potent impact.”
He suggests that an approximately 15-minute nap is likely the most effective because once we exceed 20 minutes, the possibility of entering a deep sleep increases, potentially resulting in grogginess upon awakening.
“Many people consume caffeine after waking up, but there is a 20-minute window of opportunity during which it aids in waking you up. It undeniably works.”
Horne mentions that individuals cannot instantly fall asleep, making it impossible to precisely predict the duration of their slumber. Nonetheless, even a 15-minute catnap is regarded as beneficial.
“At the very least, by having caffeine, you are aware that within 20 minutes, you will experience increased alertness.”
He emphasizes that if one has not obtained any sleep the previous night, this approach may not suffice for complete refreshment. However, for those who have experienced merely a restless night’s sleep, it can be effective.