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Does Napping Make You Smarter? Only If You’re Old, Says Study

Naps could improve memory and locational awareness for those in their 60s and up.

According to one study, if you’re 60 years old or older, taking a quickie nap in the afternoon might actually have a host of benefits when it comes to overall mental agility. A new survey from General Psychiatry suggests that an afternoon nap could “be associated with better locational awareness, verbal fluency, and working memory” compared to those over 60 who don’t often partake in a brief snooze

While the news is great for our parents, it does less for us, Gen X-er workaholics who just want to lay down after a particularly heavy lunch. Indeed, we’d give anything to have a chance to justify the post-lunch nap, after a heavy lunch and a night of not getting enough sleep, a brief period of catching up on those elusive ZZZs is often the salve that many people need to get re-energized for the rest of the day. But, did you know that napping could be a healthy practice to get into, especially as you get older? 

The observational study examined the sleep patterns among 2214 healthy people over the age of 60 living in Beijing, Xian and Shanghai. Of these participants, 1534 took regular naps, while 680 didn’t, and everyone took part in health and cognition questionnaire assessments, including tests for dementia. The participants averaged 6.5 hours of sleep each night and their naps were defined as ranging from 5 minutes to 2 hours of consecutive sleep time. 

The study found that those who napped performed significantly better on the cognitive tests. The researchers theorized that one reason why the nappers performed better than non-nappers was that sleep plays a major role in keeping the body’s immune response in check, therefore, taking a nap could be potentially helping combat midday inflammation. Also, it suggests that those who find themselves always wanting a nap in the afternoon may already be experiencing higher levels of inflammation. 

But these findings aren’t necessarily conclusive. Before you go and schedule a 30-minute nap into your every lunch break, it’s important to note that there are some limitations to the study. For one, the participants appeared to not be getting enough sleep at night, averaging only 6.5 hours of sleep. Sutapa Mukherjee, a sleep and respiratory doctor and president-elect of the Australasian Sleep Association, said, “Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep to feel rested,” adding, “So in my mind, it makes sense that people who have an afternoon nap performed better on some of their cognitive tests, because this is a sleep-restricted population of people,” according to The Sydney Morning Herald. Sharon Naismith, a neuropsychologist from the University of Sydney, suggested that the study’s reliance on questionnaires versus using sleep monitors could also be limiting. 

Naismith concludes, “But having said that, it’s a very interesting topic, so it’s good to have a bit more research one way or another that looks at large groups of people who nap.” While the study is not definitively suggesting that everyone over the age of 60 needs to be napping, it may imply that it could be helpful for combating cognitive decline as you get older, particularly if you find that you’re not sleeping enough at night.