SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN – It’s midafternoon. You’re full from lunch. The day is warm. You’re starting to feel drowsy. Should you give in to the comfort of a nap?
From a health perspective, it may be worth it. Though there is some debate over whether napping benefits everyone, research suggests naps can boost at least some people’s cognitive performance in the short term.
And a regular midday snooze might also have longer-term impacts, from a possible improvement in cardiovascular health to a bulwark against the loss of brain volume—potentially a protective factor against dementia.
“If you can fit in a nap of anything up to about 30 minutes, which isn’t really long, there seems to be fairly good evidence that you could be helping your brain age a little bit more healthily,” says Victoria Garfield, an epidemiologist at University College London.
“Several studies find that a well-timed nap can provide a short-term boost in brainpower.”
For example, scientists reviewed past research that focused on healthy participants with regular sleep cycles. That review, published in 2009 in the Journal of Sleep Research, showed that napping improved factors ranging from reaction time to alertness to memory performance.
A brief nap can also light the spark of creativity, a 2021 study in Science Advances found. In that research, participants were given math problems that could be solved with an easy shortcut that they weren’t told about. Some participants were encouraged to take a brief, dozy nap before tackling the problems.
The researchers found those who napped—and spent even just 30 seconds in the first, lightest phase of sleep—were 2.7 times more likely to figure out the math shortcut than those who stayed awake.
But entering a deeper sleep phase had a negative effect on this creative insight. In other words, there may be a “sweet spot” of mental relaxation that clears the way for eureka moments … read more.