Something Spaniards have always known is that a siesta is good for your overall health and well-being. Now, scientists have confirmed the benefits of an afternoon nap. A new and interesting study focusing on midday napping for the elderly has shed new light on the importance of sleep and cognitive decline.
As we age, we tend to forget more or have difficulties in remembering or learning new things. For some, the cognitive decline progresses more rapidly, ultimately leading to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Previous research has already shown how an active lifestyle can help us to keep the mind sharp, but now researchers believe a daily after-lunch nap is also crucial for a healthy aging brain.
Study co-author, Junxin Li, Ph.D., of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, and colleagues, found that napping for about an hour in the afternoon may provide a mental boost for older adults. Their findings were recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
How napping can boost your brain health
For their study, the researchers analyzed information provided by nearly 3,000 Chinese adults aged 65 and older who were part of the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study. Close to 60 percent of the participants in the study said they routinely napped between 30 and 90 minutes after lunch.
All participants underwent a series of tests to assess their mental status. They were asked questions about napping time, nighttime sleep duration, demographic characteristics, health habits, comorbidities, functional status and social activities.
Based on their answers, they were categorized into four groups: non-nappers (0 minutes napping time), short nappers (less than 30 minutes), moderate nappers (30 to 90 minutes) and extended nappers (more than 90 minutes). The research team concluded that moderate afternoon napping can prevent your brain from aging and help you perform better on memory tests.
This is not the first time afternoon napping has been associated with better mental health and well-being. As reported by Medical News Today, previous research has indicated that napping can improve cognitive performance five-fold.
Better mental performance for moderate daytime nappers
According to the National Sleep Foundation, a 20- to 30-minute nap is best for boosting alertness and mental performance. The new study, however, found that a 60-minute nap is necessary to really reap the mental benefits; a longer or shorter siesta did not have the same effect.
Compared with non-nappers, the researchers discovered that people who had a moderate afternoon nap of one hour performed better on the cognitive tests. They noted that participants who took no naps, short naps, or extended naps experienced a cognitive decline that is comparable to a five-year increase in age.
There were some limitations to the study, though. Li and colleagues stressed that more research will be needed since their results are based on self-reported data of the participant’s napping behavior. For this reason, they cannot prove that these naps directly benefit cognitive functioning among aging people.
“The cross-sectional design and self-reported measures of sleep limited the findings. Longitudinal studies with objective napping measures are needed to further test this hypothesis,” the team concluded.