Record-high temperatures have swept much of the globe this summer — July was the hottest month ever recorded on the planet, prompting doctors in Germany to prescribe afternoon naps to cope with the heat, a first. These new Earth-shattering, pavement-melting heat waves will come with consequences wide-ranging. One of them is that heat can harm us.
Babies and young children, for example, struggle to deal with heat because they can’t regulate their body temperature as well as big kids and adults. But just because most adults can sweat it out doesn’t mean the heat doesn’t get to us, too. Even though we might avoid the worst of heat-related illnesses (like heat stroke) the hot weather that will dominate the next few months can wear us out. Save closing all your windows, blinds, blasting the AC, and waiting it out ‘til October, there’s one hack that’s existed for millennia — and it may also help your brain health. An afternoon nap, in fact, might be the best thing for you.
Researchers at University College London (UCL) and the University of the Republic in Uruguay found that taking daytime naps may contribute to better brain health as we age.
No matter how healthy they are, our brains shrink as we get older, which puts us at risk for developing cognitive issues and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Ataxia. The researchers, however, found a promising correlation between taking afternoon naps and a reduction in the early onset of brain shrinkage.
The team looked at data from 35,080 Biobank participants to study whether there was a “causal role of daytime napping on cognitive and neuroimaging outcomes.” While there has long been an association between cognitive function, brain health, and daytime naps, there wasn’t a clear causal connection — until now.
The study's results, which were published in the journal “Sleep Health,” suggest that everyone — not just babies and toddlers — might benefit from an afternoon snooze. Nappers’ brains looked 2.6 to 6.5 fewer years younger.
“We found an association between habitual daytime napping and larger total brain volume, which could suggest that napping regularly provides some protection against neurodegeneration through compensating for poor sleep,” the researchers note. While the study was limited in scope, it suggests that regular offers health benefits that few adults have the opportunity to take advantage of, given the time pressures on working parents.
While most children under 3 nap, and adults over 64 are more likely to nap, only about 14% of adults aged 26 to 64 take daytime naps.
“A short daytime nap … could help preserve brain volume, and that’s a positive thing, potentially, [for] dementia prevention,” explained Dr. Victoria Garfield, a co-author of the study from University College London.
While researchers have yet to determine the optimal nap duration, what they found lines up with previous studies, suggesting that up to 30 minutes is most effective in protecting the brain.
A 30-minute nap doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but it can be a world of difference for an overtired parent who is running on steam. Maybe just put that ‘out to lunch’ icon up on Slack and catch up on some much-needed zzz’s.