Tired? Take a nap

Published 10:00 pm Monday, March 27, 2017

Sleep, just like a healthy lifestyle, reasonable diet and regular exercise is part of the “whole health” equation. But for some of us who are older, getting through the day is a bit of a struggle. That often brings up the question of an afternoon nap.

A study by Johns Hopkins University and reported in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society seems to indicate that an afternoon nap may actually improve memory and cognitive skills.

Cognitive function tends to decline with age – I’m not talking about dementia or Alzheimer’s disease here, and some forgetfulness is not an uncommon aspect of aging. We may forget names or where we put the car keys, but that’s not the same as a loss of memory. Such lapses are usually temporary and we often recall a name about two minutes after we’ve bluffed our way through a chat at the grocery store or mall where we bumped into good old what’s his name.

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Previous research has indicated that daytime napping can improve memory by fivefold, and according to the National Sleep Foundation, a 20-30 minute afternoon nap is “best for boosting alertness and mental performance, without interfering with nighttime sleep.” However, more recent research suggests that rather than a short nap, a one-hour afternoon siesta is “ideal for improving cognitive functioning among older adults.”

During testing they found that a one-hour nap after lunch resulted in the best scores in the study’s cognitive tests. Perhaps even more surprising, “The [research] team notes that subjects who took no naps, short naps (20-30 minutes), or extended naps (90-minutes or longer) experienced a decline in cognitive function that is comparable to a five-year increase in age.”

While this research was observational, and does not prove that afternoon naps directly benefit cognitive functioning among older adults, their results, “support the hypothesis that a moderate-duration nap taken during the post-lunch dip is associated with better overall cognition.”

Most of this research data deal with seniors. But there are some companies that offer their younger working employees some interesting perks such as time for a short afternoon nap. They do this because their anecdotal evidence has shown them that even younger workers who face time pressure and job stress to meet deadlines and goals, are more productive given a few minutes to just relax, rest and decompress than just pushing through that low energy dip.

While that’s an interesting theory, for those of us in the senior bracket, it’s often a good idea to listen to our bodies. If yours is telling you to slow down, or if your eyes get heavy enough to want to take a short midday nap, give it a try. You may find that the balance of your waking hours is more enjoyable because you let your mind and body rest. Think of it as a perk you give yourself as a reward for being old enough to have the time to take advantage of it.

Ron Kauffman is a consultant and expert speaker on issues of aging, Medicare and Obamacare. Ron is the author of “Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease,” available as a Kindle book on Amazon.com. He may be contacted at 828-696-9799 or by email at drron561@gmail.com.