I’ve never been a napper. Even as a kid I could not close my eyes during the day for fear of missing something. To me, sleep was tantamount to being dead. In the last 35 years, I recall taking only one nap. I was 8 months pregnant and one afternoon, decided to lie down and close my eyes. A few minutes later, terrified that something was horribly wrong with me, my husband shook me awake. He had never seen me nap!
We all know that sleep is important. If you’re between the ages of 18-64 you need 7-9 solid hours of it! Recently, biologists have even discovered that part of sleep’s job is “pruning back” some of our synapses. They enable neurons to send signals to each other quickly and efficiently when we are using our minds. The idea is that they grow so exuberantly during the day that our brain circuits “get noisy” and sleep gives them time to quiet down by pruning some of them back. Interestingly, a fifth of our synapses during sleep remain unchanged as if they encode well-established memories that shouldn’t be tampered with. Scientists refer to this as, “forgetting in a smart way.”
The Journal of Neurology just published a study, which shows that new ‘long-sleepers’ have an increased likelihood of developing dementia. Those who have recently started to sleep for more than nine hours were found to have a 20 percent increased likelihood of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. They also appeared to have smaller brain volumes. Researchers emphasize that this longer sleep is not a direct cause of dementia but rather a sign that chemical changes are happening in the brain. The development of dementia can also make people feel more tired.
If you have a cat or dog you know that that they can nap anywhere, anytime. If you are a regular napper, you are boosting your immune system, mood, alertness and creativity. Science has even proven that if you nap right after learning a great deal of material, you are more likely to remember it. Someday, I may just have to bear down on my pillow and imitate my dog. I will put a sign on the door first so that my husband doesn’t wake me! Until then, I’ll keep my eyes open so I don’t miss anything!