What an afternoon nap does to your brain

Since we spent the entire week talking about simple ways to help keep your brain young, I thought I would wrap things up today with one more strategy that’s so simple you can do in your sleep… literally. 

Let me explain… 

Napping boosts brain power   

It’s no secret that people tend to nap more as they age.  

But what’s still not clear is whether these naps prevent cognitive decline, or whether they’re actually symptom of dementia. So one new study set out to investigate this dilemma 

Chinese researchers looked at more than 2,200 people aged 60 years or older. More than half took regular afternoon naps, while 680 of them didn’t.  

In this study, a “nap” was a period of more than five minutes of sleep, but no more than two hours, taken after lunch. Frequency ranged from daily to once a week. And average nighttime sleep was around 6.5 hours in both groups.  

All the participants received health checks and standardized cognitive assessments (like the Mini Mental State Exam, or MMSE) to evaluate them for dementia. They looked at factors like cognitive ability, visual-spatial skills, working memory, attention, problem solving, and verbal fluency.  

In the end, MMSE scores were significantly higher among the nappers, compared to those that didn’t nap. There were also significant differences in verbal fluency, memory, and locational awareness. 

A balancing act 

Being an observational study, these findings don’t prove that naps boost brain health. But it’s not the first research to suggest that Mediterranean-style siestas are good for you.    

It’s also true that the study didn’t collect much information on the actual duration of the naps. And needless to say, this is a pretty important detail. 

You may remember a study I shared a few years ago, which showed that excessive daytime fatigue and longer naps can drastically increase your risk of metabolic syndrome.  

In this particular study, the relationship between napping and metabolic risk was “J-shaped.” This means that subjects who napped fewer than 40 minutes suffered no increased health risks. But when naps lasted longer than 40 minutes, metabolic risk began a sharp upswing. 

In fact, subjects who routinely clocked 90-minute naps saw their risk of metabolic syndrome rise by as much as 50 percent. 

And scientists call Alzheimer’s “diabetes of the brain” for a reason. Anything that compromises your metabolic health is bad news for your cognitive health, too.  

In other wordsreaping the benefits of napping is a balancing act.   

If you want to get the most perks from an afternoon nap, I suggest keeping it between 30 minutes to one hour, tops. And never rely on naps as a substitute for a good night’s sleep. As always, I recommend getting seven to nine hours of quality shuteyeevery single night.  

If you struggle to get a good night’s sleep, I encourage you to check out the February 2021 issue of my monthly newsletter, Logical Health Alternatives (“The pill-free secret to lowering your risk of a deadly stroke”)—where I outline safe, natural, drug-free sleep support advice, along with my top four supplements to help promote good sleep. Not yet a subscriber? All it takes is one click. 


“Afternoon napping linked to better mental agility: Associated with better locational awareness, verbal fluency, and working memory.” Science Daily, 01/25/2021. (sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/01/210125191846.htm)