The lunch hour is virtually unknown in America. If one gets a break at all it is usually no more than 30 minutes. Therefore taking an after-lunch nap, also known as siesta, is typically out of the question. Yet, according to a new study, taking an afternoon nap may help keep your brain sharper and younger.
In some countries, afternoon siestas especially after lunch are common. In fact, the siesta is ingrained in tradition. Some of these countries include India, Spain, Nigeria, Mexico, Greece, and Ecuador. Turns out they may be on to something besides a simple rest (by itself is usually a good thing).
The study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, involved 3000 participants aged 65 and older. The researchers looked at the participants’ nighttime sleep habits and whether or not they regularly took an afternoon nap. Nearly 60 percent of the participants regularly napped after lunch.
Participants were categorized as non-nappers (no naps), short nappers (less than 30 minutes), moderate nappers (30 to 90 minutes), and extended nappers (more than 90 minutes).
Researchers had the participants undergo cognitive assessments of orientation, memory, attention, and a combined global cognition score incorporating these assessments. Demographic characteristics, health habits, and other factors were also put into consideration.
The results suggest that taking an afternoon nap may be good for your brain, but duration of the nap is also important.
People who napped for about an hour (moderate nappers) performed better on the cognition assessment tests than non-nappers and those who napped for more than 90 minutes. Participants who didn’t nap and those who took extended naps of more than 90 minutes showed decline in their mental abilities.
Moderate nappers’ brains were also found to perform at an equivalent of five years younger.
The Power Nap
Therefore the ideal nap time for improved cognitive function, according to the study, is between 30 and 90 minutes. Although there is no consensus as to the power nap length, most experts tend to favor between 10 and 30 minutes. This is in order to avoid “sleep inertia”, the unpleasant groggy feeling that can take time to shake off.
Since the study suggests a snooze that is at least the maximum length of the power nap, it may be a good idea to keep it between 30 and 60 minutes.
Though the study found an association between regular hour-long napping and cognitive ability, a cause and effect relationship could not be established.
Not surprisingly, napping has been linked to improved productivity as well. A previous post about how sleep boosts brain power differently for men and women tells of how inventor Thomas Edison used naps for super-productivity.