AsianScientist (Nov. 1, 2021) – If you’re reading this in the middle of the afternoon and you’re starting to feel a little sleepy, here’s your cue to give in to that nap. Taking a regular afternoon nap has its benefits and may be linked to better mental agility, suggests research published in General Psychiatry.
Our sleep patterns change as we age, with older people more likely to take afternoon naps. At the same time, dementia affects around 1 in 10 people over the age of 65 in the developed world. However, current research hasn’t determined whether afternoon naps help to prevent dementia in older people or if they are a symptom of it.
Now, researchers from The Fourth People’s Hospital of Wuhu, the Shanghai Mental Health Center and Shanghai Jiao Tong University have found that short afternoon naps are associated with lower signs of dementia in the elderly.
The study studied over 2,200 healthy residents above the age of 60 in several large cities around China. While all participants slept around 6.5 hours a night, roughly 70 percent of the participants took a regular afternoon nap, defined as sleeping between five minutes to two hours, after lunch.
The participants underwent health checks and cognitive assessments to check for signs of dementia, and were also scored across several aspects of cognitive ability such as working memory, attention span, locational awareness and verbal fluency.
Cognitive performance scores were higher among the nappers than they were among those who didn’t nap, with nappers performing significantly better in locational awareness, verbal fluency and memory.
However, the researchers found duration and frequency of the naps matter too. While shorter naps under 30 minutes taken around four times a week were associated with an 84 percent decreased risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, longer and more frequent naps were associated with poorer cognitive functioning.
An observational study like this one cannot establish a definitive explanation for how different napping styles lead to different health outcomes, but the researchers propose inflammation may explain the link between the different afternoon naps and health outcomes.
Because sleep regulates the body’s immune response, the theory is that napping is thought to be an evolved response to inflammation, with people with higher levels of inflammation napping more often.
The researchers concluded by emphasizing the need to comprehensively consider napping patterns, such as the timing, duration, frequency, and planned or unplanned nature, when it comes to determining the benefit of an afternoon napping habit.
The article can be found at: Cai et al. (2021) Relationship Between Afternoon Napping and Cognitive Function in the Aging Chinese Population.
Source: British Medical Journal; Photo: Lam Oi Keat/Asian Scientist Magazine.
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