Scientists Say Napping Could Improve Your Brain Health

  • Prior studies have shown a relationship between tapping and memory and health markers.
  • New research suggests that daytime napping may be associated with larger brain volumes.
  • Nap duration seems to be an important factor, with an ideal time around 20 to 30 minutes.

There’s nothing better than a brief snooze in the middle of the day to relax and recharge. But if you’ve been feeling guilty about those daily daytime naps, don’t fret – a new study found that regular daytime naps may be associated with a healthy brain.

The study, published in SleepHealth, looked at data from the UK Biobank that collected health, genetic and lifestyle information from 500,000 individuals between the ages of 40 and 69 in the United Kingdom. The researchers from the University College London and the University of the Republic in Uruguay evaluated data of 35,080 of the UK Biobank participants to see if there was a relationship between regular daytime napping and cognition and brain structure.

Results from the research found an association between regular daytime naps and larger total brain volume. Total brain volume is an important health measure, and may be an indicator of mortality risk, according to scientists. But keep in mind that there was no link found for daytime napping and cognitive outcomes and visual memory.

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Is napping good for you?

This isn’t the first study to look at napping and health markers and outcomes. Prior research out of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society previously found that individuals who napped for 30 to 90 minutes had better word recall – a sign of good memory – than participants who did not nap or who napped for longer than 90 minutes.

Additional recent research on siestas, a Spanish word referring to a midday nap or rest break, found that people who often took a siesta lasting 30 minutes or less were 21% less likely to have elevated blood pressure compared to those who didn’t take naps at all.

How long should a nap be?

This same study on siestas found that individuals who napped for more than 30 minutes were more likely to have a higher body weight, higher blood sugar levels and high blood pressure. Other research has suggested that excessive daytime napping may predict an increased future risk of Alzheimer’s.

Our health experts say that a nap around 20 minutes, but no more than 30 minutes, is ideal for adults. This duration will allow you to reap the benefits of a short, restorative “power nap” without falling into the deep stages of sleep and interfering with nighttime sleep.

What steps can I take for better sleep?

A short, restorative nap is ideal if you prefer a brief snooze during the day. But if you find yourself napping for prolonged periods of time it may be an indicator of insufficient overnight sleep or poor sleep quality.

Try to establish a bedtime routine where you go to bed around the same time every night. Keep the bedroom dark, quiet and cool to create an optimal environment for sleep, and ideally avoid screens for an hour or two before bed. Lastly, try to avoid caffeine at least six hours before bed, and speak with your healthcare provider to rule out any underlying conditions such as sleep apnea that may be impacting your sleep.

    The bottom line: Emerging research suggests that habitual daytime naps may be associated with larger brain volumes. Prior research shows a positive link between daytime naps and memory and other health markers. But nap duration seems to be key, as excessive daytime naps are associated with poor health outcomes. Aim to keep your breath under 30 minutes to feel restored and refreshed, and focus on good sleep hygiene practices at bedtime too.

    Headshot of Stefani Sassos, MS, RDN, CSO, CDN, NASM-CPT

    Nutrition Lab Director

    Stefani (she/her) is a registered dietitian, a NASM-certified personal trainer and the director of the Good Housekeeping Institute Nutrition Lab, where she handles all nutrition-related content, testing and evaluation. She holds a bachelor’s degree in nutritional sciences from Pennsylvania State University and a master’s degree in clinical nutrition from NYU. She is also Good Housekeeping’s on-staff fitness and exercise expert. Stefani is dedicated to providing readers with evidence-based content to encourage informed food choices and healthy living. She is an avid CrossFitter and a passionate home cook who loves spending time with her big one fit Greek family.

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