Daytime naps may help against Alzheimer’s

Fatigue. Photo by Dragana Gordic

University College London researchers have found that taking regular naps can benefit the brain and potentially slow down the aging process. According to the study, individuals who took naps had brains that were 15 cubic centimeters larger, which is equivalent to delaying aging by three to six years. However, the researchers recommend keeping naps under 30 minutes in duration. Despite the potential benefits, the practice of daytime napping is frowned upon in most professions so won’t be an option.

Dr. Victoria Garfield, one of the researchers, suggests that everyone could potentially gain some benefit from napping. She considers the findings to be both innovative and exciting. While napping is crucial during infancy, it becomes less common as we grow older and regains popularity after retirement, with approximately 27% of individuals over 65 reporting daytime napping.

Dr. Garfield emphasizes that incorporating naps into daily routines is relatively easy compared to activities like weight loss or exercise, which can be challenging for many people. Although the natural aging process leads to a shrinking brain, further research is needed to determine whether napping can help prevent conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.

Maintaining overall brain health is vital for protecting against dementia, as the condition has been linked to disrupted sleep patterns. The researchers propose that poor sleep may contribute to brain inflammation and disrupt connections between brain cells over time.

Researcher Valentina Paz suggests that regular napping could potentially counteract neurodegeneration by compensating for insufficient sleep. However, Dr. Garfield personally prefers alternative methods for brain care, such as exercise, rather than napping during work hours.

To study the benefits of napping, researchers faced challenges due to the reciprocal relationship between napping and overall health. Fatigue caused by poor health can lead to increased napping. To overcome this, the researchers utilized a novel technique based on DNA analysis. They examined data from 35,000 individuals between the ages of 40 and 69 from the UK Biobank project. By comparing genetic variants associated with being a napper or a non-napper, they discovered a significant difference of 15 cubic centimeters in brain size, equivalent to an aging delay of 2.6 to 6.5 years. The total brain volume in the study was approximately 1,480 cubic centimeters.

Professor Tara Spires-Jones from the University of Edinburgh and the British Neuroscience Association commented that the study’s interesting findings showed a small yet notable increase in brain volume. She believes it further supports the notion that sleep is essential for brain health.

Although the study did not directly examine longer midday sleeps, the researchers suggest that a nap duration of less than 30 minutes may be optimal.

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