Napping is often frowned upon due to stereotypes that associate it with laziness. But that may soon change, thanks to a new study by researchers at University College London.
Research on the nap presents ambivalent results: some point to the negative effects of long naps on our organism, while other studies emphasize the advantages of short naps. A recent study, carried out in collaboration by University College London and the University of the Republic of Uruguay and published in the journal Sleep Health, provides evidence that sleeping for 30 minutes a day helps fight cerebral atrophy (shrinking of the brain).
A large-scale study to prove the benefits of napping
To carry out this study, the researchers exploited a large database of DNA, representing the genetic code inherent in our birth. Previous research has identified 97 specific segments of our DNA that increase our propensity to nap. These data were collected by the UK Biobank, which gathered information on the genetics, lifestyle and health of 500,000 people aged 40 to 69. The scientific team thus relied on information from 35,080 participants to see if genetic variations associated with napping were linked to brain size. They confirmed this relationship. The results of the study show that the brains of people who take short naps are larger by 15 cubic centimeters (0.9 cubic inches), which is equivalent to delaying aging by 3 to 6 years.
Dr Victoria Garfield, co-author of the study and researcher at University College London, highlighted the positive impact of napping saying: “Taking a short daytime nap could preserve brain volume and this is a positive thing, potentially for the prevention of dementia“. Similarly, Professor Tara Spires-Jones of the University of Edinburgh, Chair of British Neuroscience, shared her perspective on the study saying: “I like to take short naps on weekends and this study convinced me that I shouldn’t feel lazy taking a nap, it may even protect my brain“.
The nap in the different stages of life
It is scientifically proven that napping plays an essential role in the development of babies. However, its frequency decreases as we age, only to regain popularity after retirement. What remains consistent across all stages of life is the importance of sleep to overall brain health. Researchers and health professionals warn of the consequences of lack of sleep, which, over time, damages the brain by causing inflammation and affecting the connections between brain cells.
The nap at work: a concept that is not unanimous in France
The siesta at work continues to be debated in the corporate culture in France. But in other countries, this practice is nevertheless well anchored, even in those where the valuation of work is particularly strong. For example, in China, daytime sleep has been a constitutional right since 1948. In Japan, it is common for employees to take a nap at work, and in the United States, the benefits of the “Power nap” are widely recognized, especially in Silcon Valley, the birthplace of startups and liberated companies. These multiply the actions to promote well-being at work and therefore the daily siesta.