Wellness & Fitness

Afternoon naps hold key benefits for older people

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The importance of sleep is indisputable. Indeed, it is during sleep times that the body repairs itself and becomes fit to ‘face’ yet another day.

Health experts note that having enough sleep enables people to maintain optimal health and well-being.

When it comes to health, they note that sleep is as vital as regular exercise and eating a balanced diet.

For instance, getting adequate rest may help prevent excess weight gain, heart disease and increased illness as it boosts immunity.

Besides, it increases energy levels and leads to better mental health functioning, which enables people to cope effectively with daily life stresses.

To reap maximum benefits, health experts note that most adults require an average of between seven and nine hours of sleep.

This sleep is usually associated with the rest that people have at night. Going to bed at night is considered normal but dozing off during the day is looked down upon and may be perceived by many as laziness.

Martin, an information technology specialist at a local firm knows only too well the stigma that is associated with such a habit.

“I love taking a short nap or a siesta as many might call it, briefly during a lunch break before I go back to my desk to work. But when I do so, people keep jostling me to wake up and stop the laziness,” he says.

“Some assume that I didn’t have sufficient sleep at night, and advise me to consider sleeping early in the evenings, yet that’s not the case. I simply feel refreshed after my afternoon naps.”

Contrary to the beliefs of many people, these daytime naps hold key health benefits, especially among older people.

A new study published in the General Psychiatry Journal indicates that taking a regular afternoon nap may be linked to better mental agility, locational awareness, verbal fluency and working memory.

The researchers note that as people age, their risk for dementia usually increases due to the degenerative changes that happen in the brain.

Dementia is a general term for a loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities that are severe enough to interfere with daily life.

As people age, their sleep patterns also tend to change, with afternoon naps becoming more frequent.

For a long time, health experts have wondered whether these afternoon naps might help to forestall cognitive decline and dementia in older people, or whether they might be a symptom of dementia.

The researchers sought answers to this puzzle through the study, which involved 2,214 ostensibly healthy people aged at least 60 residing in several large cities around China, including Beijing, Shanghai and Xian.

Out of the study participants, 1,534 indicated that they took regular afternoon naps, while 680 did not.

As a general principle, all participants underwent a series of health checks and cognitive (brain function) assessments, including the Mini-Mental State Exam to check for dementia.

This focused on people’s visual-spatial skills — the ability to process what the eyes see, working memory, attention span, problem-solving capabilities, locational awareness and verbal fluency.

The average length of night-time sleep was about six and a half hours in both groups — for those who took the nap and those that did not.

Afternoon naps were defined as periods of at least five consecutive minutes of sleep taken after lunch for not more than two hours.

During the study, the participants were asked how often they napped during the week. This ranged from once a week to every day.

In the end, the results of the study showed that people who took the afternoon naps had higher cognitive (brain) performance scores than those who failed to do so. They also had heightened locational awareness capabilities, verbal fluency, and memory retention abilities.

Aside from the mental and brain health benefits, past studies have also shown that afternoon naps are associated with an increased reduction in heart disease due to the reduced cardiovascular stress associated with daytime sleep.

They can also contribute immensely in reversing people’s willpower as the day progresses. This reduces stress, improves mood and restores focus.

The short sleep breaks are also good at calming nerves. Experts recommend naps less than 30 minutes in length since sleeping for longer hours during the day can lead to sleep inertia — deep grogginess that can be difficult to get out of.