Researchers say taking a nap can increase mental agility in elderly people

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
  • There are conflicting studies on the cognitive benefits of afternoon naps
  • A recent study found that afternoon napping has cognitive benefits in persons older than 60
  • It improved functions such as working memory, language and orientation

Several studies have had opposing results regarding afternoon napping – some indicate that it promotes cognitive function, whereas others have contradicting results.

This led a group of medical researchers to further examine the impact napping has on cognition. Their study, published in BMJ's General Psychiatry division, has shown that a brief afternoon nap can benefit cognitive function in the elderly.

Nappers versus non-nappers

The researchers recruited 2 214 elderly (over the age of 60) Chinese people for the purpose of the study and divided them into two groups: napping (1 534) and non-napping (680).

The participants were subjected to a series of tests – by the Beijing version of the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, the Mini-Mental State Examination, and the Chinese version of the Neuropsychological Test Battery – in order to evaluate their cognitive abilities.

 A nap a day prevents cognitive decay

The results of the study indicate that afternoon napping is associated with improved cognitive function. It was also found that individuals who took afternoon naps had higher levels of triglycerides (a type of fat found in blood).

“Afternoon napping was associated with better cognitive function including orientation, language, and memory in the present study,” the researchers stated in their paper.

The researchers went on to say that “this study highlighted higher cognitive performance in nappers in the elderly, supporting previous observational studies”.

Benefits of napping extend beyond cognitive function

The researchers acknowledged that there were limitations to their study, and that factors such as napping duration, lifestyle and comorbidities need to be considered when weighing up whether or not napping is beneficial in elderly persons.

However, when considering health and well-being – of which cognitive function is only a fraction – there are more factors to consider.

The researchers also pointed to an additional benefit in their main findings: “When a disease or cell damage occurs, napping may help regulate the inflammatory response” because “napping is thought to be an evolved response to inflammation”.

Image credit: Pexels

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
32% - 9422 votes
68% - 19857 votes