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That’s why naps are so healthy – 2024-04-04 15:28:45

The risk of developing dementia increases with age. A study now shows that regular afternoon naps could help keep the brain fit as we age.

The number of people suffering from dementia is increasing worldwide. In Germany alone, around 1.8 million people suffer from the incurable disease, and by 2050 there could be up to 2.8 million affected. Numerous research has already shown that, in addition to genetic factors, certain lifestyle habits also influence the risk of developing the nerve disease. This includes diet, exercise, but also social contacts.

A new study now shows that regular naps can also help maintain mental health in old age and significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia.

The researchers at University College London involved in the study have gained new insights into why this is the case. Apparently, a regular nap has an impact on brain volume. And this in turn influences mental performance. Previous research has shown that a short nap can improve learning ability.

Brain shrinks with age

It was already known that the brain shrinks with increasing age and that this is associated with a decline in cognitive performance. The reason: If the brain loses volume, this usually means that it has lost nerves – and this increases the risk of dementia. This process is accelerated in people with cognitive problems and neurodegenerative diseases. Several studies have already provided evidence that this could be related to sleep problems. The new findings now seem to confirm this.

In the study now published in the journal “Sleep Health”, the scientists examined data from almost 379,000 people between the ages of 40 and 69. One finding: The tendency to take an afternoon nap seems to be genetically determined in many people. And this is apparently linked to how quickly the brain loses volume as a result of the aging process.

An analysis has shown that after the age of 35 there is a steady decline in brain volume of 0.2 percent per year, which accelerates to 0.5 percent per year at the age of 60 and to more than 0.5 percent thereafter, said Valentina Paz, one of the study authors.

Naps could stop aging

However, the brains of the people analyzed in the new study who took regular naps appeared 2.6 to 6.5 years younger in volume compared to average.

“We found an association between habitual daytime napping and larger total brain volume, which may suggest that regular naps provide some protection against neurodegeneration by compensating for poor sleep,” the researchers conclude.

However, the study has some limitations. For one thing, it is based only on data from white British people. On the other hand, it is not possible to determine the exact duration of the afternoon nap, which can be associated with dementia prevention. It is also unclear whether the same benefits of an afternoon nap would be observed in those who do not have a genetic predisposition to it. The study authors also believe further research is necessary.

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