AncestryDNA® Traits Learning Hub

AncestryDNA® Traits Learning Hub

AncestryDNA® Traits
Learning Hub

Taking Naps

Taking daytime naps is common in Mediterranean and Asian populations. In countries like Spain, Greece, Italy, Vietnam, and China, cultural traditions of long lunch breaks often include afternoon naps. But napping has also become popular for those who live in other places, like the United States. In addition to being a cultural practice, taking naps has a genetic component, making it a heritable behaviour.

Despite its apparent advantages, especially for those who are likely to be sleep deprived, such as pilots and shift workers, the risks and benefits of napping for everyone aren't entirely clear. However, groundbreaking research is emerging that could open your eyes about the way you take naps.

An AncestryDNA® Traits test can help you understand how your DNA relates to your daytime snoozing habits.

Do Some People Need to Nap More Than Others?

Where you fall on the spectrum of napping depends on an array of factors. Whether you’re a morning or night person, for some, going a day without a nap might be unbearable, while others don't give the idea a second thought. In fact, nodding off during the day because of sleepiness can leave some folks feeling groggier than they were before they napped.

Reasons for napping include:

  • Making up for a late night or early morning
  • Shift work and long schedules
  • Illness
  • Relaxation
  • Improved focus
  • Increased alertness

So if you're a shift worker or regularly don't get enough nighttime sleep, scheduling a short 20-minute power nap each day can improve tiredness and sleep-related performance issues.

Still, you might be wondering why you crave a nap despite being a daytime worker and a model of good sleep hygiene. The answer, in part, may rely on your DNA. For example, scientists have uncovered a variant in a gene (Sik3) that increases the amount of sleep needed by living organisms. If you're someone who can never seem to get enough sleep, there's a chance your love of shut-eye is coded into your chromosomes.

Napping and Genetics

How likely someone is to take naps is partly impacted by their DNA. In one study, researchers discovered 123 regions in the human genome that are associated with increased nap-taking—and many of these regions were already linked to sleep disorders and sleep in general. In particular, small differences in the neuropeptide orexin pathway seem to influence napping.

The researchers identified three genetically driven traits that could impact daytime napping:

  1. Poor sleep: Naps can make up for disrupted nighttime sleep.
  2. Early morning awakening: Early risers may be more likely to take naps.
  3. Sleep propensity: Some people appear to need more sleep than others.

What Else Does Science Say About People Who Nap?

According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, approximately 34% of Americans take naps. Among adults, those between the ages of 18 and 79 nap the least, with those over 80 napping the most. Men over 50 reported napping significantly more than women over 50.

Advantages of short naps include:

  • A potential boost in brain performance, including logical reasoning, memory, and motivation to complete tasks
  • Possibly enhanced cognitive performance, reaction time, and endurance for athletes
  • Stress relief and immune support for people who lost out on sleep the previous night
  • Cutting by half the risk of heart attacks and strokes, when short naps are taken 1-2 times a week

Interestingly, nap length matters. Longer naps don’t always mean more benefits and can sometimes be associated with unfavourable outcomes. In one study looking at data from 2,974 people, those who napped for 30 to 90 minutes saw improved word recall, while people who napped more than 90 minutes didn't see the same benefits.

It's important to note that 90 minutes is the cut-off for a longer nap and also the amount of time it takes to complete a sleep cycle. Waking up during deep sleep may be the reason people who take long naps get up feeling groggy.

A potential downside for frequent nappers and those who take longer naps would be increased difficulty with sleeping at night.

Besides the pros and cons of napping, here are some tidbits about its history and practice around the globe.

Interesting Facts About Napping

Whether or not you enjoy a good daytime snooze, nap time has been commonplace for millenia. The word “siesta” has Latin roots and means sixth hour. That was typically the hottest time of day and the hour when ancient Romans napped.

Spanish culture has even taken its cultural and historical appreciation of afternoon naps to new levels by holding a National Siesta Championship. All you have to do to win is fall into deep sleep as quickly as possible—sounds good!

And in Japanese culture, there’s a practice of napping at work called hirune. For those who work long hours, taking a short nap at lunchtime can be a way to demonstrate a dedication to hard work.

Are you curious to discover what your DNA says about your daytime napping habits? Add AncestryDNA® Traits for a deeper insight into your inside story.


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