- A recently published study has found that afternoon naps can lead to improved cognitive functioning in the elderly
- The researchers recruited over 2,000 healthy Chinese people aged 60 years or above.
- Those who took afternoon naps performed better on cognitive tests as compared to those who didn’t.
Afternoon naps are a common feature among people in China, Spain, Italy, and many Mediterranean countries. In most cultures, the nap is often a way to take a break from work; during the hottest time of the day. However, its also commonly associated as a part of aging. The change in sleeping patterns with age cause afternoon naps to become more frequent. It is unclear as to whether these naps are a sign of impaired cognition in the elderly, or beneficial for cognitive function.
Now, a study published in the journal General Psychiatry has found evidence of afternoon naps causing better mental agility.
Afternoon Naps Leads to Improved Cognitive Functioning
The study authors defined afternoon naps as at least five continuous minutes of sleep taken after lunch; not more than 2 hours long.
The researchers recruited 2214 healthy adults from several cities across China. The participants were all aged 60 years or above and had no underlying health conditions. After assessing patients for dementia, researchers divided them into two groups based on their napping history. Out of the total, 1534 took regular naps while 680 did not.
The participants then underwent multiple cognitive assessments; including the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) and the Beijing version of the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA). The tests measured for memory, language, problem solving, and other cognitive abilities.
Results showed that those who took regular naps performed better on cognitive tests than the ‘no naps’ group. Moreover, the results showed significant difference in the verbal fluency, working memory, and orientation.
Short Naps Are Better
The study authors theorize that sleep regulates the body’s immune response. Thus, countering inflammatory markers often linked to increased mortality and impaired cognition. However, long (exceeding 2 hours) and more frequent naps are associated with poorer cognitive functioning. Since the study participants did not exceed 2 hours of nap, researchers believe it could have added to their positive results.
However, one limitation to the study is the fact that it is an observational study and cannot establish a cause-effect relation for napping. Moreover, the researchers failed to record the duration of naps and the time at which the participants took naps.
Relationship between afternoon napping and cognitive function in the ageing Chinese population, General Psychiatry, DOI: 10.1136/gpsych-2020-100361