Turns Out the Mexicans Have It Right; a Midday Siesta Helps Keep the Brain Healthy As We Age

NataliAlba / shutterstock.com
NataliAlba / shutterstock.com

Despite comedians and historians portraying Mexicans as being “lazy” for taking a nap during the middle of the day, University College London researchers have proven it is crucial for continued brain health as we age. In their study, the brains of those who napped frequently were an average of 0.9 cubic inches bigger in size. While this might not sound like a lot, it equivalates to 3-6 years of a delay in aging.

While many consider this to be an activity reserved for babies through infants and then again as we become senior citizens and beyond, this little slice of heaven is clearly the key to staying young. Dr. Victoria Garfield explained to BBC that “we are suggesting that everybody could potentially experience some benefit from napping.” She regards it as “something quite easy” one can do for their health. Especially as many now consider exercise to be “difficult for a lot of people.”

Mind you, the brain will still naturally shrink from age, and they are still looking into the prospects of them preventing Alzheimer’s. For now, they have linked dementia to brain health, and naps are a great source of fuel for that health. To Dr. Garfield, though, she still sees the importance of exercise, and to her, it’s still her preference for overall health.

This kind of test is incredibly difficult to perform. However, thanks to advancements in genome sequencing, they looked at 97 previously identified snippets of our DNA that make us more likely to be nappers than people who just get it all done at once. From that, 35,000 people from 40 to 69 were identified from the UK Biobank and compared the nappers versus non-nappers.

First published in the journal Sleep Health, the study found the 0.9 inches (15 cubic cm) difference or 2.5 to 6.5 years of age difference between the two sample groups of similar ages. In total volumes of 1,480 cubic centimeters were in the study.

Prof Tara Spires-Jones, from the University of Edinburgh and the president of the British Neuroscience Association, also spoke with the BBC about the study. She found the results of the study to be encouraging. “I enjoy short naps on the weekends, and this study has convinced me that I shouldn’t feel lazy napping, it may even be protecting my brain.” She admits the finding is a “small but significant increase in brain volume” that only “adds to the data indicating that sleep is important for brain health.”

This study is stuck using previous studies to determine the most amount of effective sleep, but that’s an important figure to keep in mind. For many Americans, this can easily be done while working an office job. Sadly, those working in the blue-collar trades who could likely use it the most as they are on their feet all day are the least like to take them.

Many Americans who grew up with parents who worked all the time can recall seeing them get that midday nap on the weekends or during vacation. This time to recharge their batteries is likely what has kept so many parents as sharp as they have been.

Sadly though, it’s not an easy thing to measure and study, especially as not everyone can or chooses to nap daily. By setting the table for a new way to look at naps going forward, researchers now have the blueprint to study this through tools like cell phones or as an app for the Apple Watch to measure the body’s response to sleep.

Studies like this kid have the doors wide open for a bunch of possibilities. For now, though, the safest idea is to grab a pillow, perhaps a blanket, and get a 25-minute snooze in during the work day. It can potentially make you more productive in the second half of the day, and help you achieve better results in the long run, too.