Afternoon Naps Could Improve Cognitive Function

Benefits of Naps
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Research suggests that an hour long nap after lunch could help boost memory in older adults. As we age, our cognitive functioning gradually declines, meaning that we start having problems recalling names, learning new things, or simply remembering where we left the house keys. Previous studies have linked being active – both mentally and physically – with staying on the ball in older age – but is there anything else you can do to keep your mind sharp?

According to a new study, yes. Research undertaken at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore suggests that a good afternoon nap could work wonders if you find yourself in need of a memory boost. Whilst similar investigations have already established a link between napping and cognitive performance, these new findings – published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society – show that an afternoon nap of around one hour to be ideal when it comes to boosting memory performance in older adults.

The Study

Scientists analysed the data of 2,974 Chinese adults aged 65 and over who were part of the China Health and Retirement longitudinal study. All participants were tested to assess their attention span, episodic memory and visuospatial abilities using a variety of means including mathematical, word recall and figure drawing tests.

They were also asked to report how long they napped for after lunch on each day during the past month, and were categorised into four groups based on their answers: non-nappers (0 minutes, short nappers (less than 30 minutes), moderate nappers (30-90 minutes) and extended nappers (more than 90 minutes).

Stick to a Moderate Nap

Of the 57.7% of those who claimed to partake in post-lunch napping, moderate nappers (averaging a snooze time of one hour) came out on top. When compared to those who did not sleep in the afternoon, or who slept for much longer, this group of participants performed better in the cognitive tests.

Indeed, reductions in mental abilities of non-nappers, short nappers and extended nappers were between four and six times greater than those of moderate nappers. It was also noted that such a decline in cognitive function was comparable to an estimated five-year increase in age.

Study co-author Junxin Li, Ph.D., of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said:

“The results support the hypothesis that a moderate-duration nap taken during the post-lunch dip is associated with better overall cognition. Older adults who did not nap or napped longer than 90 minutes (extended nappers) were significantly more likely than those who napped for 30-90 minutes after lunch (moderate nappers) to have lower overall cognition scores after adjusting for possible confounders.”

However, Li did highlight that the cross-sectional design and self-reported measures of sleep limited the findings, and agreed that further research is needed.


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