Taking a regular afternoon nap may be linked to better mental agility, suggests research published in the online journal General Psychiatry.
It seems to be associated with better locational awareness, verbal fluency, and working memory, the findings indicate.
Longer life expectancy and the associated neurodegenerative changes that accompany it, raise the prospect of dementia, with around 1 in 10 people over the age of 65 affected in the developed world.
As people age, their sleep patterns change, with afternoon naps becoming more frequent. But research published to date hasn’t reached any consensus on whether afternoon naps might help to stave off cognitive decline and dementia in older people or whether they might be a symptom of dementia.
The researchers explored this further in 2214 ostensibly healthy people aged at least 60 and resident in several large cities around China, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Xian.
In all, 1534 took a regular afternoon nap, while 680 didn’t. All participants underwent a series of health checks and cognitive assessments, including the Mini Mental State Exam (MMSE) to check for dementia.
The average length of nighttime sleep was around 6.5 hours in both groups.
Afternoon naps were defined as periods of at least five consecutive minutes of sleep, but no more than 2 hours, and taken after lunch. Participants were asked how often they napped during the week; this ranged from once a week to every day.
The dementia screening tests included 30 items that measured several aspects of cognitive ability, and higher function, including visuo-spatial skills, working memory, attention span, problem solving, locational awareness and verbal fluency.
The MMSE cognitive performance scores were significantly higher among the nappers than they were among those who didn’t nap. And there were significant differences in locational awareness, verbal fluency, and memory.
This is an observational study, and so can’t establish cause. And there was no information on the duration or timing of the naps taken, which may be important.
But there are some possible explanations for the observations found, say the researchers.
One theory is that inflammation is a mediator between mid-day naps and poor health outcomes; inflammatory chemicals have an important role in sleep disorders, note the researchers.
Sleep regulates the body’s immune response and napping is thought to be an evolved response to inflammation; people with higher levels of inflammation also nap more often, explain the researchers.
1. Han Cai, Ning Su, Wei Li, Xia Li, Shifu Xiao, Lin Sun. Relationship between afternoon napping and cognitive function in the ageing Chinese population. General Psychiatry, 2021; 34 (1): e100361 DOI: 10.1136/gpsych-2020-100361
Razi Berry is the founder and publisher of the journal Naturopathic Doctor News & Review, which has been in print since 2005, and the premier consumer-faced website of naturopathic medicine, NaturalPath. She is the host of The Love is Medicine Project docuseries, The Natural Cancer Prevention Summit, The Heart Revolution-Heal, Empower and Follow Your Heart, and the popular 10-week Sugar Free Summer program. From a near death experience as a young girl that healed her failing heart, to later overcoming infertility and chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia through naturopathic medicine, Razi has lived the mind/body healing paradigm. Her projects uniquely capture the tradition and philosophy of naturopathy: The healing power of nature, the vital life force in every living thing and the undeniable role that science and mind/body medicine have in creating health and overcoming dis-ease. You can follow Razi on social media: Facebook at Razi Berry, Instagram at Razi.Berry and join the Love is Medicine group to explore the convergence of love and health. Look for more, and listen to more Love is Medicine podcast episodes here.