You snooze, you win: Taking a regular afternoon nap of just five minutes may improve your mental agility and help stave off dementia, study finds

  • Researchers studied the sleep patterns of more than 2,200 Chinese seniors
  • Each participant was also given a standardised screening test for dementia
  • Nappers got better scores in locational awareness, memory and verbal fluency
  • However, the team cautioned that the study has not established causation 

Regular afternoon naps — even of just five minutes a day — may improve your mental agility and help to stave off dementia, a study has reported.

Researchers from China studied the sleep patterns of 2,214 healthy adults aged 60 or over who lived in several large cities — including Beijing, Shanghai and Xian.

Of the participants, 1,534 reported taking a regular afternoon nap of between five minutes and two hours, while the remaining 680 individuals did not.

Each of the subjects also took part in a dementia screening test — with the results revealing ‘significant’ differences between the napping and not groups.

Sleeping in the afternoon was associated with better locational awareness, verbal fluency and working memory in the senior adults.

As people age, their sleep patterns change — and napping becomes more common. 

Previous research has been unable to reach a consensus as to whether napping might help fight off dementia, or whether it is in fact a symptom of such.

In the developed world, around 1 in ten people over the age of 65 have dementia — with numbers increasing as global life expectancies rise.

Regular afternoon naps — even of just five minutes a day — may improve your mental agility and help to stave off dementia, a study has reported (stock image)

‘In addition to reducing sleepiness, mid-day naps offer a variety of benefits,’ the researchers wrote in their paper.

These, they explained, include ‘memory consolidation, preparation for subsequent learning, executive functioning enhancement and a boost to emotional stability — but these effects were not observed in all cases.’

However, the team cautioned, the study could not establish a causal relationship between napping and mental agility — and, furthermore, noted that the study did not account for the length or timing of naps, which could be important. 

The team did find, however, that those who took regular afternoon naps had higher levels of a fat called triglyceride in their blood — which means that napping is linked with associated cardiovascular disease risk factors, the study said.

The researchers also put forward some possible explanations for the findings — including the theory that sleep regulates the body’s immune response and napping could be an evolved response to inflammation.

‘Individuals with higher levels of inflammation also nap more frequently,’ the researchers wrote in their paper.

Researchers from China found that sleeping in the afternoon was associated with better locational awareness, verbal fluency and working memory in the senior adults (stock image)

‘Scientists continue to work to unravel the relationship between sleep and dementia,’ said Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Sara Imarisio.

‘Unusual sleep patterns are common for people with dementia, but research suggests that sleep changes could be apparent long before any symptoms like memory loss start to show.’

The authors ‘were unable to find out whether daytime napping directly affected memory and thinking, with the research merely showing a link between the two.’ 

‘While other studies have also indicated a link between changes in sleep quality, a larger study looking at a number of sleep-related factors, not just napping, is needed,’ Dr Imarisio added.

This, she said, would ‘paint a clearer picture about the link between dementia and sleep throughout the day.’

The full findings of the study were published in the journal General Psychiatry.

WHAT IS DEMENTIA? THE KILLER DISEASE THAT ROBS SUFFERERS OF THEIR MEMORIES

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of neurological disorders

A GLOBAL CONCERN 

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders (those affecting the brain) which impact memory, thinking and behaviour. 

There are many different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.

Some people may have a combination of types of dementia.

Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience their dementia in their own unique way.

Dementia is a global concern but it is most often seen in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live into very old age.

HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED?

The Alzheimer’s Society reports there are more than 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK today, of which more than 500,000 have Alzheimer’s.

It is estimated that the number of people living with dementia in the UK by 2025 will rise to over 1 million.

In the US, it’s estimated there are 5.5 million Alzheimer’s sufferers. A similar percentage rise is expected in the coming years.

As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of them developing dementia.

Rates of diagnosis are improving but many people with dementia are thought to still be undiagnosed.

IS THERE A CURE?

Currently there is no cure for dementia.

But new drugs can slow down its progression and the earlier it is spotted the more effective treatments are.

Source: Alzheimer’s Society 

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