Daytime Naps Give Clues to Dementia and Alzheimer’s

Although Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia aren’t essential symptoms of aging, the fact remains that our brains change with age. For example, it is common for people with dementia to experience unusual sleep patterns, but research suggests that these changes could appear long before symptoms like memory loss appear. For instance, Brigham and Women’s Hospital researchers report a two-way link between daytime naps and Alzheimer’s. Next, we will discuss the study findings, the benefits and drawbacks of napping, and more.

What Was the Methodology of the Study?

Researchers from Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center and the University of California, San Francisco, collaborated on the study. They tested two hypotheses in this study: (1) Napping increases with age, and the changes accelerate when Alzheimer’s is present; and (2) excessive napping links with Alzheimer’s.

How was the study conducted:

For up to 14 days, 1,000 Rush Memory and Aging individuals wore Actical, a watch-like device, on their non-dominant wrists. Using a previously validated sleep scoring algorithm that considers wrist activity counts, the team identified sleep episodes and calculated nap duration and frequency.


What Were the Results of Naps and Alzheimer’s Study?

Using a wristwatch to measure sleep activity, daytime napping was defined as sleeping for periods between 9:00 and 19:00.

Based on the results, older adults typically nap longer and more frequently with aging. Moreover, the progression of Alzheimer’s dementia accelerates this change, increasing nap duration/frequency more than twice annually. Dementia risk was higher in patients who slept for more extended periods during the day and took more frequent naps during the day. Interestingly, more prolonged or frequent daytime napping led to worse cognition a year later, and worse cognition also contributed to more excessive naps. The study’s results appeared in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Naps and Alzheimer's, Senior man sitting on the sofa and sleeping while watching TV at night

How Can We Interpret the Study Results?

There is a link between naps and Alzheimer’s. The risk of developing Alzheimer’s was 40% higher for elderly adults who napped daily or more than an hour a day than those who did not nap daily or napped less than an hour a day, according to the research mentioned above.

Although this study extends previous research on daytime sleep and dementia risk, there is still a lack of agreement regarding older adults’ daytime sleep habits in clinical practice and health care. However, the results show that excessive daytime napping may not only indicate an elevated risk of Alzheimer’s dementia but also may signal a deteriorating or unfavourable clinical progression of the disease. Evidence suggests that 24-hour sleep patterns – not just nighttime sleep but also daytime sleep – play an essential role when monitoring health in older adults. For example, as people age, they tend to nap more often, but this does not necessarily indicate anything concerning. Read here on Normal Ageing Vs Dementia: What’s the Difference?


The Link Between Naps and Alzheimer’s Disease

The longer and more frequent daytime naps of cognitively average older men and women were associated with Alzheimer’s. This was despite known dementia risk factors, including age, nightly sleep duration, and fragmentation. In addition, napping duration and frequency increased with the progression of the disease, especially after the onset of clinical symptoms. In the end, the study describes daytime napping as a “vicious cycle” that negatively impacts cognition.

The vicious cycle associated with daytime sleep and Alzheimer’s disease provides a basis for a better understanding of the role of sleep in the development and advancement of Alzheimer’s disease in seniors.

naps and Alzheimer's

Does napping have Any Benefits At All?

Two hours of napping a day increase cognitive impairment risk. However, napping for less than 30 minutes has its benefits. In older adults, there is conflicting evidence regarding the effects of daytime napping on cognition. But various benefits have also been suggested, including:

  • Relaxation
  • Reduced fatigue
  • Increased alertness
  • Improved mood
  • Performance improvements, including faster reaction times and better memory


What’s the Best Way to Take a Nap?

Here are some tips for getting the most out of a nap:

  • Short naps are best. Aim to nap for only 10 to 20 minutes. If you nap for too long, you’re more likely to feel groggy later. You’ll gain the most vital benefits from 20 minutes of napping, and it won’t harm your nighttime sleep.
  • Early afternoon is the best time to take a nap. Napping after 3 p.m. can meddle with your sleep at night. Several factors, including your need for sleep, your sleeping schedule, age, and medication use, can also affect nap times.
  • Create a restful environment. A comfortable room temperature and a quiet, dark place are ideal for napping.

Allow yourself time to wake up before resuming activities – especially if you need to respond quickly or sharply.

Naps and Alzheimer's. Calm mature woman wearing striped sleeping mask relaxing in comfortable bed

The Importance of Sleep Quality

While there is no surefire way to prevent dementia, we can reduce the risk through things within our control. Research suggests staying mentally and physically active, eating a balanced diet, and maintaining good cholesterol. Blood pressure levels can all contribute to keeping our brains healthy as we age. Here you can read about The Best Exercises to Reduce Dementia Risk.

Regarding naps and Alzheimer’s, it is important for older adults and caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s to watch out for excessive napping behaviours. Talking to your doctor about sleep is important, as is making sleep a priority and paying attention to its quality.


Final Words

Changing one’s lifestyle or paying more attention to one’s brain health is never too late. It is wise to draw more attention to daytime sleep patterns and the significance of keeping track of their sleep schedule changes over time. The effects of sleep are critical in creating internal changes in the brain related to circadian clocks, cognitive decline, as well as dementia risk.

Source Excessive napping and Alzheimer’s linked in study Daytime napping and Alzheimer's dementia: A potential bidirectional relationship Napping linked with dementia and having dementia also linked with more frequent naps
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1 year ago

I found this article particularly interesting as it resonated with a personal experience of mine. A few years ago, my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and one of the early signs we noticed was that he would often take daytime naps. At the time, we didn’t think much of it, but looking back, it’s clear that it was a clue that something wasn’t quite right.

1 year ago

I appreciate the important work that researchers are doing to understand these conditions better and identify potential warning signs. I hope their efforts will lead to better outcomes for those affected by dementia and Alzheimer’s and, ultimately, a cure.