HAVING an afternoon nap can boost your memory and is linked to better cognitive abilities, experts have revealed.
Researchers say that people who take afternoon naps on a regular basis also have better verbal fluency and are more aware of their surroundings.
Published in the online journal of General Psychiatry, experts state that as people age their sleep patterns differ – with naps becoming a frequent feature.
Across the world around one in 10 people over the age of 65 are affected by dementia.
In the UK more than 920,000 are living with the condition – a number expected to rise to over a million by 2024.
Current research doesn’t state whether or not afternoon naps could help stave off cognitive decline and whether they might be a symptom of dementia.
Experts analysed 2,214 healthy people aged 60 and over in large cities in China.
Of all the participants, 1,534 took regular naps and 680 didn’t, but all underwent health checks and cognitive assessments, including the Mini Mental State Exam (MMSE) to check for dementia.
The researchers classed an afternoon nap as anything below two hours of consecutive sleep, but it had to be over five minutes and taken after lunch.
They were asked how often they napped and this ranged from once a week to every day.
Participants who napped more often had higher scores on the MMSE test than those who didn’t.
The test monitors working memory, attention span, problem solving, locational awareness and verbal fluency.
The experts say that inflammation is a mediator between mid-day naps and poor health outcomes and that inflammatory chemicals have an important role in sleep disorders.
They stated: “Sleep regulates the body’s immune response and napping is thought to be an evolved response to inflammation; people with higher levels of inflammation also nap more often.”
With researchers stated that getting forty winks is the best way to keep your cognitive abilities in tip top condition, here’s five ways you can get a better sleep.
1. Cut the coffee
It might keep you going throughout the day but Kim Plaza from Bio Kult says if you want to sleep better then you should avoid caffeinated food and drinks such as chocolate, alcohol, coffee, tea and energy drinks.
“Avoiding food that is high in simple carbohydrates and refined sugars may also aid our sleeping habits,” she says.
“When we consume food that contains little fibre or high amounts of sugar, this can spike blood glucose levels, which has a short-term stimulating effect and we need to release hormones in order for us to deal with this additional load.”
2. Get into a routine
While it’s important to have a bedtime routine. Kim says it’s also important that you have some sort of structure during the day.
“Keeping to a regular routine during the day where possible may help us regulate our sleep hormones more effectively.”
“This includes waking up within the same 90 minute window each day. Our sleep hormones rely on a finely balanced circadian rhythm, which is an internal process that regulates our sleep-wake cycle and is dictated largely by our exposure to daylight.”
3. Chill out
Stress and sleep affect each other, and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is concerned with our reaction to stressful situations.
When we get stressed this revs up and gives us hormones to help us deal with stressful situations.
“The HPA axis modulates our sleep by following the 24 hour light/dark cycle, and provides us with cortisol in the morning and melatonin at night,” says Kim.
4. Plan your meals
Kim says that eating meals at the same time each day ensures we are keeping our appetite hormones stable.
Ghrelin is the hunger hormone and leptin is the satiety hormone and both of these can have an impact on our sleep.
If out of sync, Kim warns that this could lead to over eating and we may be more likely to experience food cravings.
5. Get physical
When we exercise we release endorphins – chemicals which release positive feelings in the body and the brain.
Stress hormones hinder the effect of these positive feelings and could see hormones such as melatonin, which is required for relaxation and sleep, being wiped out.
Kim says the activities that we do during the day will therefore impact on our ability to switch off.
“Getting a good dose of those exercise derived endorphins could tip the balance in favour of promoting good sleep.