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napping memory

Napping Your Way To a Better Memory

We’ve said before that dietary supplements are ineffective in boosting memory. But there’s no denying that memory loss is a concern as we grow older. Two new studies, however, appear to show that regular napping can improve memory and cognitive ability more than previously thought.

These studies show that regular napping—done correctly—confers numerous health benefits. So instead of turning to ineffective over-the-counter supplements, our family practice doctors would like to suggest you consider an afternoon nap.

Improved heart health

First, a 2019 study published in the BMJ journal Heart found that those who napped once or twice a week had a 48 percent lower risk for heart attacks, strokes, or heart failure than those who never took naps. This benefit did not appear to increase for those who napped more often. And nap length did not make a difference, either. Anything from five minutes to an hour produced a significant result.

Another six-year study in 2007 also showed a significant benefit to napping. In that study, researchers tracked the napping habits of nearly 24,000 healthy Greek adults. They accounted for such unhealthy practices as smoking and poor diet. Even still, participants who napped for a half-hour three times a week had a 37 percent lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those who didn’t.

Another 2015 study examined neuroendocrine and immune biomarkers. Biomarkers are signs in molecules indicating health or disease in the body. It found a 30-minute nap restored these biomarkers to normal levels in those who hadn’t slept well the night before.

Memory boost after napping

Now there’s evidence that napping also boosts brain health. In one new study, published in the January issue of General Psychiatry, researchers looked at data on the napping practices of 2,214 Chinese adults ages 60s and older. They found those who napped between five minutes and two hours performed better on a series of cognitive tests than those who never napped.

In every cognitive category of the test, nappers performed statistically better on average than the non-napping control group.

“This study found that a proper nap is beneficial to the maintenance of cognitive function, so we encourage the elderly to take a proper nap,” lead study author Cai Han, geriatric psychiatrist at The Fourth People’s Hospital in Wuhu, China, told CNN.

Another similar study, also conducted in China, found those who enjoyed a brief daily snooze between 1-4 p.m. scored higher on memory tests than those who didn’t nap. Researchers analyzed the napping habits of nearly 3,000 people in China ages 65 and older. They found that those who napped for between 30 and 90 minutes after lunch had better word recall—a sign of good memory—as well as better figure drawing—another good indicator—than those who didn’t nap or who slept longer than 90 minutes.

Don’t overdo it

There are several problems with sleeping longer than 90 minutes, however. One, of course, is that it can make it harder to fall asleep that night. Another is that it can cause grogginess on waking. Longer naps induce a deeper stage of sleep, making it harder to fully awaken.

“In the study, naps longer than 90 minutes could have been called a ‘second sleep,’ ” explained Dr. Charlene Gamaldo, medical director of Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center.

Longer naps may signal poor-quality nighttime sleep. They’re making up for bad nighttime sleep due to insomnia or because their nighttime sleep is interrupted by such issues as sleep apnea, nightmares, or frequent bathroom trips. Those who sleep longer than 90 minutes tend to perform worse on cognitive tests.

How to nap well

So what’s the best way to go about taking a restorative nap? Here’s now to go about properly napping to improve your memory.

  • The best time for a nap is between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Napping any later than this can leave you sleepless at bedtime.
  • Nap in a quiet, restful place with no distractions and a comfortable room temperature.
  • Aim for 20 minutes, the so-called “power nap.” Longer naps can leave you feeling groggy and disoriented for some time afterward.
  • Give yourself a few minutes after waking to resume demanding activities, especially those that require alertness.

If you’ve been feeling as if you need more or longer naps than normal, or are having trouble falling or staying asleep at night, be sure to talk to us. This could signal either a problem with medication you’re taking or a health issue that needs to be addressed.

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