Afternoon naps ward off cognitive decline, study suggests

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Alexandra Thompson
·2 min read
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Regular afternoon naps may help people stay sharp in old age. (Posed by a model, Getty Images)
Regular afternoon naps may help people stay sharp in old age. (Posed by a model, Getty Images)

Downing Street may have denied claims Boris Johnson is partial to an afternoon snooze, however, research suggests naps could help ward off cognitive decline.

Scientists from the Shanghai Jiao Tong University analysed more than 2,000 healthy people aged 60 or over.

Results revealed those who regularly napped for at least five minutes, but no more than two hours, after lunch scored better on a series of cognitive tests.

These measured everything from memory and attention span to problem solving and “verbal fluency”.

Read more: How to help children sleep during pandemic

Although unclear, afternoon naps may ease inflammation linked to cognitive decline.

This comes after The Times reported it is “not entirely uncommon” for the prime minister to partake in a “power executive business nap”; a claim his press secretary later called “untrue”.

Britain's former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson takes a nap whilst watching the England cricket team play India at The Oval cricket ground in London, Britain, September 8, 2018. REUTERS/Paul Childs
Downing Street has denied claims Boris Johnson regularly takes an afternoon nap. The prime minister is pictured asleep at The Oval cricket ground in London on 8 September 2018. (Reuters)

Sleep patterns often change with age, with elderly people sometimes relying on an afternoon nap to get through the day, the scientists wrote in the journal General Psychiatry.

The benefits of naps have long been debated, with scientists from the Guangzhou Medical University in China previously reporting snoozing for more than an hour may increase the risk of a premature death, while less than 60 minutes of shut eye could boost heart health.

With it being unclear whether naps help ward off cognitive decline, or are a symptom of it, the Shanghai scientists analysed more than 2,000 adults living in Chinese cities.

Overall, the participants averaged around 6.5 hours of sleep a night.

Read more: Weekend lie-ins rarely erase sleep debt

Results revealed the over 1,500 participants who regularly had an afternoon nap scored better on the mini mental state exam, a dementia assessment.

The nappers did particularly well when it came to orientation, language skills and memory.

Perhaps surprisingly, the nappers also had higher levels of circulating fat in their blood, which has been linked to cognitive decline.

“Napping may be partly due to sedentary lifestyle”, which could be associated with greater appetite and calorie intake, wrote the scientists.

Nevertheless, the elevated fat levels were still within the normal range, “which is perhaps the reason it did not cause a worse effect on cognitive function”.

Read more: Should offices have nap pods?

The scientists stressed the study was observational, and therefore does not prove cause and effect.

Information was also not collected on the exact timing and duration of the participants’ naps, with further research being required.

Watch: Arianna Huffington encourages napping at work