A new study suggests that taking short naps during the day can have a positive impact on brain health as individuals age.

Published in the journal Sleep Health, the study analyzed DNA samples and brain scans from over 35,000 participants aged 40 to 69 who were part of the U.K. Biobank study.

Researchers focused on genetic markers associated with regular napping habits and compared brain health analyses and cognition tests between individuals with and without these napping genes. The findings indicated that regular nappers tended to have larger total brain volumes, equivalent to a difference of 2.5 to 6.5 years of aging compared to non-nappers.

While the study didn't establish a causal relationship between napping and improved brain health, it highlighted a significant link worth exploring.

Previous research on napping and brain health has yielded mixed results. A study involving a large sample size of 358,451 participants suggested that regular napping was associated with a higher risk of high blood pressure and stroke. However, the study did not consider nap duration or account for underlying health conditions.

The latest study conducted by Hassan Dashti, Ph.D., from Massachusetts General Hospital, and colleagues emphasized that short daytime naps may offer protective benefits for the brain.

Some theories propose that brief naps help alleviate sleep deprivation, which is prevalent among many adults who fail to obtain the recommended eight hours of sleep per night. Napping may partially replenish sleep debt, leading to increased energy levels and improved cognitive performance.

Sleep experts suggest that humans may be naturally inclined to be polyphasic sleepers, meaning they benefit from multiple sleep phases throughout the day. Establishing a consistent nap routine, preferably at the same time each day, can optimize the experience. Naps should be taken in a dark and quiet environment, lying in a horizontal position for best results.

It's advised to take short naps earlier in the day, preferably in the early afternoon, to avoid disrupting nighttime sleep. To enhance the wake-up process, expose yourself to light, engage in movement, and consume a light snack after napping. However, it's crucial to pay attention to individual feelings and assess the impact on nighttime sleep quality, the experts told Health.

While short daytime naps can be beneficial for many individuals, it's important to monitor personal responses. If one feels sluggish or experiences difficulties sleeping at night after napping, it may not be the ideal strategy.

In such cases, focusing on other healthy behaviors like exercise and maintaining good sleep hygiene during the night may yield better results. Individuals who rely heavily on daily napping despite sufficient nightly sleep should consult a sleep medicine specialist to rule out underlying sleep disorders, noted the experts.