Nestling into bed and having naps in the afternoon could be much more useful than the guilty pleasure you think it serves. It can actually boost your brain power.
A midday snooze might make you smarter. A new study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society shows that a daily one-hour nap can improve cognitive functioning in older adults.
For the study, experts asked nearly 3,000 older Chinese adults about their napping habits and the resulting cognitive findings. Those who napped for a “moderate amount of time”—typically an hour or more, demonstrated “better overall cognition” results compared to non nappers, those who took naps longer than 90 minutes, and those whose naps were shorter than 30 minutes.
The advantage was pretty significant, too. The analysis of the research team showed that those who skipped a daily nap had “worse overall cognition” than that of the nappers, and a difference in mental function equivalent to what a “five-year increase in age would cause.” A daily moderate nap, the study authors conclude, may be an “important part of optimizing cognition in elderly adults.”
This isn’t the first study to show that napping is not just a decadent hobby—or worse, a lazy habit. Researchers at Harvard University found that napping makes “people more effective problem solvers” and improves memory and creative thinking.
Harvard University researchers further concluded that naps help people separate important information from extraneous details and improve our ability to make connections between seemingly unrelated words.
If you’re going to take naps regularly, it’s important to not disrupt nighttime sleep patterns. The National Sleep Foundation suggests that a short nap of 20 to 30 minutes is best for “short-term alertness,” providing significant benefits for improved focus without leaving you feeling groggy or interfering with sleep.
Look for a restful, cool, dark place to lie down in, without any noise or distraction. Avoid taking a nap too early in the day or too close to bedtime.
Along with mental benefits, napping has significant psychological benefits, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Taking a nap can be like a “mini-vacation,” providing both body and mind with relaxation and rejuvenation.
However, researchers from Harvard University warn that if you find yourself feeling consistently sleepy during the day or you’re having trouble sleeping at night, you may want to schedule an appointment with your doctor. At any age, “sleep problems, daytime grogginess, fatigue, and a feeling of nap desperation” could all be cause for concern.