Naps are like marmite: you either love them or you hate them. While some people find a cheeky afternoon nap is the key to getting more rest, others lament the groggy feeling that appears at the end of the short shut-eye.
Yet, no matter which camp you fall into, there could actually be some benefits from regular napping – but also some detriments.
While some studies have found that longer napping can be bad for overall health, others have found that short naps can boost brain health. So, what’s the verdict?
Read on for the scientific – and expert – verdicts on how naps impact your health and lifespan.
What is a nap?
"A nap is a short episode of sleep that occurs at a separate time from the main period of overnight sleep," Dr Deborah Lee of Dr Fox Online Pharmacy tells Yahoo UK.
"Sleep is vitally important for human health. When we sleep, the body and brain are far from inactive – a range of metabolic and physiological processes swing into action, including clearance of abnormal brain proteins, detoxification and excretion of unwanted products, and regulation of the immune system."
Can napping improve longevity?
While there have been no studies looking into whether napping can increase longevity specifically, several studies have found that a nap can be detrimental to health.
One large-scale review of studies from 2020, with a total of 313,651 participants, found that 39% of the participants took naps.
It found that people who napped longer than 60 minutes saw a 30% higher chance of death, and a 34% higher risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those who didn’t nap.
It added that, overall, naps of any length were linked to a 19% higher risk of death. Women nappers had a 22% higher likelihood of death, and older participant’s risk rose by 17%.
However, naps under 60 minutes were deemed not risky for cardiovascular disease.
Another study from 2023 found people who are daytime napping ‘excessively’, defined as two 45-minute sessions per day, are more likely to have Alzheimer’s and dementia.
On the other hand, further research for 2023 found that short naps can actually protect against brain shrinkage, which helps to prevent cognitive problems as people age.
Another study from 2021 found that short daytime napping can reduce the risk of cognitive decline among older adults, and can reduce the risk of clinically-diagnosed dementia.
Short naps are defined as 30 minutes or less. So while the jury is still out on a nap’s impact on longevity, studies have shown that short naps can be beneficial for your health, while it’s the longer naps that can be detrimental.
"Whether napping increases longevity has not been conclusively proven, but it can certainly improve health in old age," Dr Lee says. "We know the amount of sleep we get is important, and that sleeping less than the recommended seven hours a night increases mortality risk by 12%."
Benefits of napping
Along with better cognitive function, Dr Lee says some other benefits of napping include:
Lower blood pressure (by around 5 mm Hg)
Boost the immune system
Improves memory and cognition
Improves work productivity
How regular napping can combat stress
The average Brit getting less than six and a half hours of sleep per night, this can cause a rise in stress levels during the day. Dr Lee says that a nap could be the perfect antidote to this.
"With stress levels in the UK higher than they have ever been, introducing the concept of a regular afternoon nap is a simple, practical and inexpensive way to improve the health of the nation," she explains.
"It’s something regularly done in hotter climates, so why not do the same in the UK? The fact many employers now require employees to take a nap is very encouraging. I’ve started taking a nap myself!"
Sleep: Read more
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How much sleep you need at different ages, from childhood to the later years (Yahoo Life UK, 7-min read)
Tips for a better night’s sleep as bad rest linked to memory loss (Yahoo Life UK, 8-min read)