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Afternoon Naps May Help Preserve Memory for Older Adults, Study Says

By Fran Kritz, Neurology News

April 11, 2017

“For people 65 and older, a daytime nap just after lunch and for at least an hour may be just the thing to preserve memory and cognition. That’s according to a new study published online in the December 20, 2016 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Previous studies found cognitive declines in some people 65 and older, as well as an increase in afternoon napping among some older people. Researchers at the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and School of Nursing wondered if there was a relationship between the two, says Junxin Li, RN, PhD, the lead author of the study and a postdoctoral research fellow at the center.

Dr. Li says earlier studies showed that 22 to 69 percent of older adults take daytime naps, a much higher rate than younger people, and that in China a post-lunch nap is considered part of a healthy lifestyle.

Nap-Cognition Link

After accounting for differences in age, education, and general health, researchers found a correlation between naps and performances on cognitive assessments. Participants who took an hour nap after lunch did better on the cognitive tests compared to the people who did not nap or who took either shorter or longer naps. Significantly, people who took no naps, short naps, or longer naps had decreases in their mental ability that were four-to-six times greater than those who took one-hour naps. Those decreases in ability were about the same as would be expected for someone about five years older than each participants’ actual age, according to the researchers.

Dr. Li calls the results ‘intriguing’ but acknowledges that the results show an association between napping and cognitive ability rather than a causal effect. The team plans more studies to see if a causal relationship exists.”

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