June 21, 2018
2 min read

Napping associated with better cognitive function in older adults

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Napping benefits cognitive function in older adults, according to findings presented at SLEEP 2018, the Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.

“This study aimed to synthesize the current evidence on the association between daytime napping and cognition in older adults,” Fang Fang Fan, of the University of Pennsylvania, and colleagues wrote in the abstract.

To analyze the association between daytime napping and cognition in older adults, researchers conducted a systematic search of PubMed, Google Scholar and PsycInfo, using keywords, such as nap, daytime sleep or siesta and cognition, cognitive function, memory, executive function, visual spatial, reaction time or attention and older adults, elderly, seniors or aging. They limited their search to publications printed between January 1995 and November 2017 and identified 12 observational and 13 intervention studies. Of the observational studies, four of the six nap duration studies suggested naps limited to less than 60 to 90 minutes were protective for cognition at 2 to 10 years follow up. This was supported in one cross-sectional study and three longitudinal studies. Additionally, three nap duration studies found naps that lasted more than 90 to 120 minutes were associated with worse cognition.

Fan and colleagues observed two studies that found napping more than 3 days per week was also associated with worse cognition, while one study showed napping no more than 3 days per week benefitted cognitive function.

According to the abstract, nap opportunity and intervention length varied among the studies. Of the intervention studies, researchers found seven studies had a 1-day single session of intervention and one study had a 4-week long intervention. Furthermore, the shortest nap opportunity was 20 minutes in one study and the longest nap opportunity — observed in two studies — was 2 hours. In five of the seven single-nap session studies, positive cognitive effects were observed, and two of those five studies found that people with Alzheimer’s disease experienced improved memory when slow oscillatory stimulation was applied during the nap. Of the five studies that applied 3- to 7-day nap interventions, four showed improvement in attention, alertness and visual detection. The single study with a 4-week intervention demonstrated that logical reasoning, mathematical processing and memory was improved with both 45-minute and 2-hour nap opportunities.

Fan and colleagues concluded that cognitive function may improve with nap intervention, within certain frequency and duration. They suggest more research is needed with more rigorous design methods.

“Overall, nap interventions demonstrated favorable cognitive effects,” Fan and colleagues wrote in the abstract. “However, the findings must be interpreted with caution due to the differences in design, sample, intervention, cognitive assessment, and nap features.” – by Marley Ghizzone

Reference: Fan F, et al. Daytime napping and cognition in older adults. Presented at: Sleep 2018, the Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies; June 2-6; Baltimore.

Disclosure: Fan reports financial support from K99NR016484. Healio Family Medicine was unable to determine the other authors' relevant financial disclosures prior to publication.