Brain boosters: Embrace the power nap lifestyle for ageless mind

Studies indicate that incorporating regular daytime naps into one’s routine may assist in preserving brain health and decelerating age-related brain atrophy.

Through Mendelian randomization and analysis of DNA snippets, researchers have discovered a correlation between napping and greater total brain volume, a significant marker of brain health and decreased dementia risk.

What is Mendelian randomization?

This technique uses genetic variations with known functions in observational research to determine how modifiable exposures cause diseases. An impartial estimate of the effects of cancer treatment in a family-based design was first suggested in 1991 by Gray and Wheatley. In recent years, the term has been applied to studies examining genetic variations reliably associated with a modifiable risk factor [1].

Recent study on napping and brain function

The study published in the Sleep Health journal said there were no noteworthy differences in cognitive abilities, such as reaction time, visual processing and hippocampal volume, between people who tend to take naps and those who don’t.

It used data from 378,932 participants in the UK Biobank to identify individuals with a genetic inclination towards napping and evaluate their brain health measures. They discovered a correlation between habitual napping and a larger total brain volume among people aged 40 to 69. This marker of good brain health is linked to a lower risk of dementia and other diseases, as revealed by the data analysis [2].

Per previous research, taking a nap can improve cognitive function. Individuals who nap briefly tend to perform better in cognitive tests than those who do not take naps [3]. The objective of the recent study was to investigate whether there is a direct correlation between daytime napping and brain health.

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Sleep and brain aging research results

According to the research team, individuals who have a habit of napping regularly have a difference in brain volume equivalent to 2.6 to 6.5 years of aging compared to those who do not nap habitually.

However, the study did not reveal any variation in the performance of habitual and non-nappers on three other measures of cognitive function and brain health: hippocampal volume, reaction time and visual processing.

The study uncovered the genetic factors that influence an individual’s tendency to take naps, using information from the participants in the UK Biobank research. Additionally, researchers examined health and cognition outcomes for people with these genetic variants and several different subsets of these variants, adjusting for potential bias, such as eliminating variants associated with excessive daytime sleepiness.

Researchers did not have information on nap duration. Still, earlier studies suggest that naps of 30 minutes or less have the best short-term cognitive benefits, and napping earlier in the day disrupts sleep less [4]. Nearly a third of adults aged 65 or over nap regularly, according to previous research [5, 6].

Note: Don’t overdo it

Per Charlene Gamaldo, MD, medical director of Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center, longer naps can cause a few issues. This is particularly relevant to seniors, as prolonged napping periods may adversely affect their cognitive abilities [7]. These include:

Temporary grogginess: Individuals who take prolonged naps may experience grogginess upon waking up. This is because they may awaken from a deeper stage of sleep, which usually occurs later in the sleep cycle, resulting in a fuzzy-headed feeling.
Inability to sleep at night: Some patients who take long naps during the day may experience insomnia at night. To improve your sleep quality and reduce the time it takes to fall asleep at bedtime, it’s recommended to limit daytime napping.

Find the balance

As the studies suggested, people who sleep too much or too little may suffer adverse effects on their health. One good practice is prioritizing getting an appropriate amount and quality of rest [8].

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[1] https://www.cdc.gov/genomics/events/precision_med_pop.htm
[2] https://www.sleephealthjournal.org/article/S2352-7218(23)00089-X/fulltext
[3] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21075238/
[4] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28366332/
[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8507757/
[6] https://neurosciencenews.com/daytime-napping-brain-aging-23526/
[7] https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/can-a-nap-boost-brain-health
[8] https://agsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jgs.14368

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