Napping Isn’t Lazy; It’s Genetic, Researchers Find
Napping habits are partly regulated by genes, not by traits like laziness, a new study has found.
“Napping is somewhat controversial,” Hassan Dashti, a geneticist from the Center for Genomic Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in the U.S. who co-authored the study, said in a statement.”This [study] tells us that daytime napping is biologically driven and not just an environmental or behavioral choice.”
In India, while people from West Bengal and Goa may be more accustomed to midday snoozes, napping is almost unheard of in fast-paced cities like Mumbai and Delhi. “I remember afternoons in Kolkata…. The rooms would reverberate with the sound of snoring. I was in a joint family and every uncle, every aunt, even domestic help snored,” Aditi Sengupta, who grew up in the capital of West Bengal, told Huffington Post.
With different global cultures perceiving siestas differently, “it was important to try to disentangle the biological pathways that contribute to why we nap,” Dashti added.
Published in Nature Communications, the study analyzed genetic information from more than 450,000 people, identifying as many as 123 genes associated with daytime napping. These involve genes associated with sleep duration, insomnia, and the tendency to be an early-riser versus a late-sleeper.
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Individuals in the cohort also answered questions about their napping habits, and the self-reports coincided with the researchers’ findings. “That gave an extra layer of confidence that what we found is real and not an artifact,” Dashti noted.
The findings also help us understand why some people simply don’t feel the need to nap — they’re just not genetically predisposed to it.
The researchers were able to identify three genetically guided mechanisms that influence daytime napping. These are: sleep propensity, which determines some people needing sleep more than others; disrupted nighttime sleep, which results in people trying to make up for disturbed night slumber by taking naps during the day; and waking up early, which leads early-risers to take quick daytime naps to stay fresh throughout the day.
The findings come amid a fresh appreciation for naps under lockdown, as people have been reporting longer work hours, greater stress, and less work-life balance while working from home. In fact, an Indian survey led by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences under lockdown found that daytime napping had indeed increased — with more and more people opting for it.
While some cultures look down on daytime napping, or deem it ‘unprofessional’, the fact that genetic predisposition leads people to need a midday snooze might help remove the guilt nappers are made to feel. Now, anyone finding themselves in need of a midday nap can simply say it’s in their genes.