Taking a regular afternoon nap could be one way to stay mentally agile, according to a new study.
The research, published in the journal General Psychiatry, looked at the sleep patterns of 2,214 healthy people aged 60 and over in several large Chinese cities.
Some 1,534 took regular afternoon naps of between five minutes and two hours, while 680 did not.
The researchers found a dementia screening test taken by participants showed that sleeping in the afternoon was associated with better locational awareness, verbal fluency and working memory.
The study said: “In addition to reducing sleepiness, mid-day naps offer a variety of benefits such as memory consolidation, preparation for subsequent learning, executive functioning enhancement and a boost to emotional stability, but these effects were not observed in all cases.”
However, the researchers said the study could not conclude whether afternoon napping could prevent dementia and cognitive decline in older people or whether it might be a dementia symptom.
Dr Sara Imarisio, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “While other studies have also indicated a link between changes in sleep quality, a larger study looking at a number of sleep-related factors, not just napping, is needed to paint a clearer picture about the link between dementia and sleep throughout the day.”
Those who had regular afternoon naps were found to have a higher level of triglyceride – a type of fat found in the blood – which meant napping was linked with some cardiovascular disease risk factors, the study said.
Researchers said one theory for the study’s findings was that sleep regulates the body’s immune response and napping is thought to be an evolved response to inflammation.
“Individuals with higher levels of inflammation also nap more frequently,” the study said.