Many of us are working from home these days, and your home is where your bed is. Which means that, should bosses and toddlers allow, the Covid era is a perfect opportunity to add an afternoon nap to your routine.
Should you give in to the temptation to snooze after lunch, or is the impulse to nap just another manifestation of the inertia that has you wearing the same sweatpants for weeks? A new study out of China suggests an answer, and it's good news for fans of an afternoon lie-down.
Can you sleep your way to better cognitive function?
There is no shortage of studies looking at the effects of napping on health and performance (more on those in a bit), but this latest one offers a couple of interesting twists. The research, recently published in General Psychiatry and conducted in China, was focused on older folks in particular. The researchers both collected data on how often more than 2,000 participants napped and also gave them a standard screening for dementia.
The results showed a clear correlation between regular afternoon naps and better mental function, including improved location awareness, verbal fluency, and memory. The nappers were also, unsurprisingly, less sleepy. Which strongly suggests grandmothers in Beijing shouldn't resist the urge to snooze if it comes upon them. But do these results have anything to say more broadly?
The researchers are careful to point out that this particular study can't prove causation. It may be that better mental functioning makes it more likely for people to nap, or that both naps and fewer symptoms of dementia are linked to some other third factor. This study just can't say. They also point out this is only a snapshot in time. The study did not track how the nappers versus the non-nappers fared over time.
Just the latest in a long line of studies
Here's where the many previous studies out there on napping I mentioned earlier may be relevant. This particular study doesn't dig into questions of causation, but lots of others have. NASA research found less than 30 minutes of shuteye boosts the performance of pilots by a third, for instance. Another small but intriguing German study showed a quick nap improved participants' recall on a memory test fivefold.
And that's just a couple of studies I am cherry-picking from a long and consistent list of research on the mental benefits of napping (I confess I'm a huge nap fan and so obsessively keep track). There are even science-backed guidelines on how to make your naps maximally refreshing.
So next time you're eyeing the door to your bedroom or that cozy throw on the back of your couch after lunch, give in to temptation if your schedule allows. It's always been smart to take a nap when you feel sleepy. One of the very few good sides of Covid is it's now easier than ever to follow the science on this.