TUESDAY, Jan. 26, 2021 - - "You snooze, you lose" may not be true when it comes to your brain: A new study finds that napping in the afternoon may actually boost mental agility.

The study couldn't prove cause and effect, but a midday nap was associated with a rise in "locational awareness," verbal fluency and working memory, the Chinese researchers reported Jan. 25 in the journal General Psychiatry.

"Among the things that are good for you and fun, you can now count daytime naps," said Dr. Gayatri Devi, a neurologist specializing in memory disorders at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

"We know that healthy sleep habits are protective for dementia and this study suggests that at least for some, midday naps may be of benefit in keeping the brain healthy," said Devi, who wasn't involved in the new research. He stressed, however, that "more studies are needed to confirm this preliminary finding."

The new study was led by Dr Lin Sun, of the Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders Center at the Shanghai Mental Health Center, in Shanghai. Sun's team collected data on more than 2,200 people at least age 60 who lived in Chinese cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Xian.

In all, more than 1,500 took regular afternoon naps, which were no more than two hours long, and 680 did not.
Study participants were given tests that judge several aspects of mental ability including visuospatial skills, working memory, attention span, problem-solving, locational awareness and verbal fluency.

Those who took afternoon naps scored higher than those who didn't, and there were significant differences in locational awareness, verbal fluency and memory.

According to the study team, there are theories why naps may be beneficial. One is that naps help ease inflammation, which plays a role in sleep disorders and overall health.

Dr. Melissa Bernbaum directs epilepsy and ambulatory sleep medicine at Huntington Hospital in Huntington, N.Y. Reading over the Chinese findings, she said they "seem to indicate a cognitive benefit for napping."

But Bernbaum added that the "duration and frequency of naps may also be important."

For example, "individuals who fall asleep unintentionally during the day -- potentially due to underlying medical or sleep disorders -- may not perform as well as individuals who take planned naps," Bernbaum said. Future studies might tease out whether the type of midday snooze taken matters when it comes to brain health," she said.

More information

For more on napping, head to the Sleep Foundation.


SOURCES: Gayatri Devi, MD, neurologist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; Melissa Bernbaum, MD, director, epilepsy and ambulatory sleep medicine, Huntington Hospital, Huntington, N.Y.; BMJ, news release, Jan. 25, 2021