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Love Napping? It Might Be in Your Genes

A man napping on the couch with his small dog.

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Key Takeaways

  • A new study found that liking daytime naps is related to certain genetic markers.
  • The researchers utilized the popular DNA organization 23andMe research cohort to identify genetic markers.
  • While the research opens up interesting avenues for exploration, the genetic likelihood of napping, as well as the relationship between naps and an individual's overall health, remain unclear.

Turns out, there may be a biological reason you enjoy napping. How frequently a person takes daytime naps is partly regulated by their genes, according to the latest study conducted by scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).

Hassan Saeed Dashti, an instructor at the MGH Center for Genomic Medicine and co-lead author of the study, tells Verywell that the researchers were interested in learning which genes regulate nap preference.

“By identifying these genes, we can then get a better understanding of the biological mechanisms that drive how frequently we nap," Dashti says.

The researchers utilized information from the UK Biobank, which includes genetic information from 452,633 people. The participants were asked about their napping habits, and some wore activity monitors (accelerometers) that supplied details about their daytime sedentary activity.

From this data, the team identified 123 regions associated with daytime napping in the human genome. The researchers then analyzed the genomes of 541,333 people from 23andMe's genetic database to replicate their findings.

Sleep habits might have implications for our overall health. "We found that frequent napping may increase waist circumference and blood pressure," Dashti says.

Upon further examination, the MGH scientists found genes indicating a relationship between obesity and a greater amount of daily sleep. Participants who reported napping consistently were also more likely to:

What This Means For You

If you like to take naps, it might be partially related to your genetics; however, research in this area is still new and the connections between genetics, napping, and what it means to your overall health are still being studied. Most importantly, you should be aiming for 7-9 hours of quality sleep a night.

Why Do We Nap?

The team at MGH identified at least three potential mechanisms that promote napping:

  • Sleep propensity, which means that some people need more sleep than others.
  • Disrupted sleep, which refers to when a daytime nap makes up for poor quality sleep at night.
  • Early morning awakening, when people who wake up early in the morning catch up on shut-eye during the day.

“We know that up to 30% of people nap, at least sometimes,” Dashti says. "Thus, our findings are relevant to a large population of people who nap."

A previous, unrelated study in twins suggested that the genetic likelihood of napping and daytime sleep is around 65% and 61%, respectively.

Dashti notes that some genes had already been connected to other sleep traits, like how long a person sleeps (duration), as well as in disorders of sleep like narcolepsy.

What's Next in Nap Research?

“Napping is multidimensional," Dashti says. "So far, we've only considered the frequency of napping in our genetic analyses."

Dashti cautions that the research on the genetics of napping is still new. For now, he says that people should keep practicing good sleep hygiene habits, including "aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep per night, aiming for consistent sleep times from day to day, limiting the use of technology prior to bedtime, [and] taking a short daytime nap to increase alertness when needed."

The next steps for the researchers will be to consider aspects of napping like duration and timing. Dashti says that "understanding the relationship between all dimensions of naps and health will be necessary to know the definitive effects of napping on health."

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  1. Dashti HS, Daghlas I, Lane JM, Huang Y, Udler MS, Wang H, et al. Genetic determinants of daytime napping and effects on cardiometabolic healthNature Communications. 2021;12(1):900. doi:10.1038/s41467-020-20585-3.

  2. Gower T, Harvard Gazette. The science behind those afternoon naps. Updated February 10, 2021.

  3. Lopez-Minguez J, Morosoli JJ, Madrid JA, Garaulet M, Ordoñana JR. Heritability of siesta and night-time sleep as continuously assessed by a circadian-related integrated measureSci Rep. 2017;7(1):12340.