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Hour-long Naps Good For Older Adults: Afternoon Naps Improve Thinking, Memory, Says Study

9 January 2017, 10:29 am EST By Dianne Depra Tech Times
Napping has long been shown to have benefits. For older adults specifically, taking hour-long naps in the afternoon aids in improving thinking and memory, say researchers.  ( Jamie Squire | Getty Images )

Cognitive abilities decline with age but researchers have discovered that taking hour-long naps in the afternoon can improve thinking and decision-making abilities as well as preserve memory.

In a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, Junxin Li and colleagues showed that sleeping has a role in aiding older adults maintain healthy mental function.

The researchers examined data from almost 3,000 Chinese adults aged at least 65 years old. According to their findings, almost 60 percent of study participants napped in the afternoon after eating lunch. Naps lasted about 30 minutes to more than 90 minutes but most people logged nap times of about 63 minutes.

To assess the participants' cognitive abilities, the researchers carried out several tests, asking subjects to answer simple questions, such as those about the season of the year and the date, making them do simple mathematical problems, having them memorize and then recall words, and instructing them to copy drawings of basic geometric figures. The participants were also interviewed about their habits involving napping and nighttime sleeping.

Napping Benefits

Based on the study's results, those who took naps for an hour after lunch performed better on the cognitive tests than those who did not or either napped shorter or longer. Those who don't belong to the hour-long nappers group registered drops in mental ability that were up to six times greater compared to those who took naps for about 60 minutes. This is equivalent to cognitive decline that five years of aging is expected to cause.

Naps will not take the place of proper sleep at night but a nap, one as short as 20 to 30 minutes, has been shown to improve performance, alertness, and mood. They can be categorized into three: planned napping (resting before feeling sleepy), emergency napping (resting when suddenly tired and unable to continue with current activities), and habitual napping (resting at the same time every day).

While napping benefits don't compare to the benefits that proper sleep has to offer, it is still important to ensure that naps are done as effectively as possible. How? Make sure you have an environment conducive to naps, for starters, as this will guarantee uninterrupted rest, but don't snooze too long to avoid sleep inertia, which leads to disorientation and grogginess instead of refreshing you.

Sleep Research

Many researchers have explored the effects of sleep on health and well-being and many have shown that sleeping benefits the body. However, sleep less than six hours each night and you might as well have not slept at all, says research published in the journal Sleep.

Other experts, however, warned at assuming there's a magic number for sleep hours. Instead, they reiterated different people have sleep needs, meaning what is enough will vary depending on health and lifestyle requirements.

And while the general belief is that getting in more snooze time is best, another research actually warns about sleeping in on the weekends. According to it, significant differences between sleeping schedules results in "social jetlag," which has been linked to higher cardiometabolic risks that increase chances of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.

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