Maybe you know this already, but an afternoon nap is good for you. But how exactly? A new study looks closely at changes in people's brains before and after a nap and discovers clear and immediate cognitive benefits to midday sleeping.
This new study, published in the Journal of Sleep Research. says that naps actually sharpen our brains, helping them deal with unconscious information, improving their processing speed, and supporting how we process and react to information.
A different study shows that napping is a strategy to help our brains stay young as we age. The Journal of American Geriatrics Society (yes, I know) published a study that showed daily nappers have cognitive results six times greater than their counterparts. The brain of nappers even looks five years younger than brains of non-nappers of the same age.
So how long should an afternoon nap last in order to reap these cognitive benefits? Well, according to the study, naps should last exactly one hour. This appears to be the ideal length of time to protect memory and reasoning capacities as well as support those unconscious processing tasks. But more important than the length of an afternoon nap is the quality of sleep, with a phase of light sleep, followed by deep sleep and finally REM sleep.
The bottom line is that the link between sleep and brain health is strong. Understanding how sleep‐related information processing affects behavior gives us clues as to how we can use sleep for cognitive enhancement and ultimately improve our quality of life. And taking a nap as an anti-aging strategy for my brain beats out a brain game any day. Plus I have always been a fan of the “siesta” custom and this gives a whole new perspective on its benefits.
In my house, there is always at least one dog eager to take a nap with anyone who will hold still. That's some added incentive in my book. Cozying up with one of my dogs for an afternoon snooze this weekend seems like a realistic goal for me -- and it could be the beginning of a new healthy habit! Sweet dreams.