Napping – good for the brain or bad? New studies have the answer

Are you partial to an afternoon nap? There is growing evidence that, for older people, an afternoon nap could improve cognitive functioning.

Two studies reveals that taking a brief nap in the afternoon can boost mental alertness and delay cognitive decline in older people. The key word here is brief.

A study from Niigata University in Japan found that for people aged 65 and older, sleeping for around 30 minutes each afternoon reduced the risk of dementia over five years.

Researchers looked at a group of 389 older adults, with an average age of 74.6, who were living independently in the community. The group was identified from previous studies conducted by the university and were invited to participate in a five-year follow-up study.

Read: Expert tips to improve your sleep

The participants were interviewed about their napping and night-time sleeping habits, then asked to complete a Hierarchic Dementia Scale-Revised (HDS-R) test, which is a standardised method of testing cognitive abilities for signs of dementia.

The results showed that those who took naps of around 30 minutes daily performed significantly better on the HDS-R test than those who didn’t nap at all. The researchers say the reason for this will require further study.

“Short daytime napping (30 minutes or less) reduces the risk of cognitive decline over five years for community-dwelling older people. A future study will be necessary to confirm the effect of short napping on the reduction of risk for clinically diagnosed dementia,” the study concludes.

The second study was carried out by a team in China, which comprised 2214 people aged 60 or over who were interviewed about their napping habits before undergoing a series of cognitive tests measuring memory and language skills.

Read: Simple ways to improve sleep health

The study found that 1534 participants took a regular afternoon nap of between five minutes and two hours, while 680 did not nap at all.

“Afternoon napping was associated with better cognitive function including orientation, language, and memory in the present study,” according to the researchers.

The results demonstrated that afternoon napping was related to better cognitive function in the Chinese ageing population.”

Both studies pointed out that regularly sleeping for longer than around two hours during the day can be detrimental to cognitive functioning and an indicator of early dementia.

The link between taking frequent long naps during the day – or oversleeping at night – and diminished cognitive performance and early onset dementia has been established before.

Read: How the moon affects your sleeping patterns

A recent study published in the journal Brain found that adults who sleep for an ‘abnormal’ time, be it too long or too short, are at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

“Diagnosing and treating sleep disturbances to optimise sleep time and slow wave activity may have a stabilising effect on cognition in preclinical or early symptomatic Alzheimer’s disease,” the researchers found.

Another study in 2019 found that long sleep duration, long afternoon napping (more than two hours), and poor sleep quality were both associated with higher risks of incidents of stroke.

They also found persistently long sleep duration at night or switching from average to long sleep duration increased the risk of stroke.

Do you take naps during the day? How long do you sleep for at night? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Written by Brad Lockyer