Daily Cat Nap May Help Preserve Brain Health

There is nothing like a little power nap, especially on a rainy Sunday or a holiday weekend, to recharge the mind and body after a long drive, or a busy week.  New research has shown that regular, short naps may help to preserve brain health and reduce brain shrinkage in older age – a risk factor for dementia and cognitive decline. 

According to a recent article in Neuroscience News, the study published in the journal Sleep Health analyzed data from people aged 40 to 69 and found that those genetically predisposed to nap had an average brain volume equivalent to someone 2.6 to 6.5 years younger.  Researchers from the University of the Republic of Uruguay found a causal link between habitual napping and larger total brain volume – a hallmark of good brain health. Taking a short nap during the day has also been found to help people perform better in cognitive tasks.  

Researchers did not find a difference in hippocampal volume, reaction time or visual processing between study subjects who napped regularly and those who did not.  The research, although limited to people of white European ancestry, demonstrates the benefits of regular short naps for cognitive health in aging and hopes to dispel any stigma around taking a power nap each day. 

If you are planning on getting a quick bit of shut-eye during the day, experts advise limiting napping to 30 minutes or less to avoid disrupting nighttime rest.  Longer naps can not only make it harder to get to sleep in the evening, but they can also leave a person feeling groggy.  The time of day is also important to avoid disturbing a regular sleep-wake cycle.  Try to avoid taking a cat nap later than 3 p.m. and if you nap regularly, stick to the same time each day.  Blocking out daylight and noise can help promote a more restorative rest. 

If you are experiencing new fatigue or have an unexplained increased need for daytime naps, talk with your doctor.  The Mayo Clinic advises that excessive sleepiness could be a medication side-effect or indicate a sleep disorder or other medical condition that is affecting a restful nighttime sleep.