Is napping important for the elderly?

napping and the elderlyFor decades now, researchers have been studying how napping affects overall health. While some studies link napping to certain health problems, new findings bring positive news, suggesting regular napping is associated with a sharper mind. This is especially encouraging to the elderly population, as surveys show that more than half of people over 75 nap at least twice a week, according to the AARP.

Some of the benefits associated with napping include:

  • Enhanced visual learning
  • Improved memory
  • Better problem solving

Still, to take advantage of the benefits, it’s important to know how long, how often and during what time of day someone should nap. A person’s age is also a factor since seniors naturally require less sleep than, say, someone in their 30s.

“I think most of us agree it’s wise to avoid taking a nap too close to bedtime, which may make it harder to fall asleep at night,” Timothy A. Roehrs, a sleep researcher at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, told the AARP. He goes on to say that, in general, the best time to take a nap is between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., a period when it’s easier to sleep as the body’s 24-hour circadian rhythm is normally in a lull.

Napping red flags

Even though many studies show health benefits associated with napping, there are other studies that link napping with health problems. For one, older people who nap tend to have more health problems than non-nappers, according to Michael V. Vitiello, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington. Many of these people who nap regularly have other sleep-related problems, such as depression, sleep apnea and nocturia. If this is the case, a common treatment for someone with chronic insomnia is to restrict sleep, i.e. less time spent in bed will lead to an improved quality of sleep.

Still, Vitiello tells the AARP that napping is perfectly OK for most people. “Experiment with different length naps. If you feel more refreshed, great. If not, maybe napping isn’t for you.”

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