Benefits of Sleeping in the Afternoon for the Elderly

Have you ever found yourself feeling drowsy or lethargic in the middle of the day? Perhaps you had a late night the evening before and may be a little sleep-deprived. You may have heard that sticking to a regular sleep cycle is key to feeling energetic throughout the day. While that is the case, research has now shown that napping in the afternoon is linked with higher cognitive function.

The elderly especially experience a range of mental health decline issues. Statistics from the World Health Organization website shows that

approximately 15% of adults aged 60 and over suffer from a mental disorder.

Dementia, depression, Alzheimer’s are just to name a few mental impairments.

Read below to find out the benefits of sleeping in the afternoon for the elderly and the range of benefits it has to offer on cognition and memory.

Old Man Sleeping

What is considered napping?

First, we can start off by explaining what is considered napping and what is considered actually sleeping. Some people have a hard time understanding the relationship between how long the nap is, and how better they feel afterward.

Usually, it is assumed that the longer the nap, the better an individual feels. However, this is not the case. Studies have found that a moderate nap is more beneficial than an extensive nap. A “short nap” is less than 30 minutes, a “moderate nap” is 30-90 minutes and an “extended nap” is more than 90 minutes. This may help you remember the time you took an afternoon nap and woke up feeling disoriented, confused and even more tired.

In fact, a power nap of just 15-25 minutes is a great energy booster and helps with alertness.

This is important because the longer the sleep duration, the higher the chances of cycling through all stages of sleep, including REM sleep. To ensure you are getting the required number of minutes for a nap, you may consider using a sleep tracker or an alarm clock.

What is REM sleep?

There are 5 stages of sleep. We will be going through each stage briefly to explain why the duration of an afternoon nap is key to feeling more energized afterwards and how it helps overall brain function in the long term.

Awake: predominantly beta waves during wakefulness
Awake and calm: beta waves give way to alpha waves during periods of calm and as we drift into sleep
Stage 1: During this stage, brain waves work slowly, thus becoming higher in amplitude. Theta waves are the characteristic of stage 1 of sleep. The blood pressure rate and breathing during this period decrease as the individual go into sleep mode. It takes almost 15 minutes for the person to enter stage 2.
Stage 2: brain waves continue to slow, bursts of brain activity during this stage which is believed to play a role in helping maintain a state of sleep and in the process of memory storage. As stage 2 sleep progresses, we do not respond to the external changes in and around the body, such as lights or sounds. When the sleeper is in stage 2 for almost 20 minutes, then one enters stage 3. 
Stages 3 and 4: comprised of delta waves, the deepest stage is sleep is stage 4 in which it is quite difficult to wake the sleeper. About an hour after falling asleep, we reach the end of our first stage 4 sleep phase; at this point, the sleep cycle goes in reverse and we move back toward stage 1 patterns. But, we do not go all the way back to stage 1. Instead, we move into a unique stage of REM sleep
REM Sleep: A stage of sleep is characterized by increasing the brain waves, the body is still, and rapid eye movements (REM) are regular. The REM pattern is so definite that the first four stages altogether known as NREM sleep. At the end of the first REM phase, we cycle back toward deep sleep stages and back into REM sleep again every 90-100 minutes. This stage is sometimes known as the dreaming sleep as the mind is not stagnant because the EEG waves represent a wakefulness state, even though we remain asleep.

Duration of naps

Now that we know the different stages of sleep, we can understand how shorter naps are different from longer naps. To increase alertness and concentration, it is important to enter stage 2 of sleep, that is, 20 minutes. This is also great for improving mood and motor skills. A 60 to 90-minute nap consists of entering REM sleep, which during the day, can make you feel more drowsy and tired.

Elderly woman napping in the afternoon

Long-Term Benefits

Research has shown that apart from feeling refreshed after an afternoon nap, there are also many long-term benefits for senior citizens. Sleeping during the day helps with:

  • hippocampal function in adults, especially the elderly, which is essential for:
  • memory consolidation
  • results in better cognitive performance which helps ensure:
    • better learning, awareness and overall brain health
    • decreased risk of heart disease
    • lower blood pressure
    • increased energy

Make the most of your daily nap!

To ensure your nap will result in you feeling well-rested and awakened, keep these things in mind:

  • Make sure you find a quiet place without any noise or distractions. A 30-minute brief nap can turn into a 2-hour nap very easily if you can’t doze off due to loud sirens, phone pings or other distractors. Keeping earplugs is helpful.
  • A diffuser, humidifier or even a light therapy lamp can help improve the quality of your nap and sleep
  • Put your phone in “do not disturb” mode. There is nothing worse than closing your eyes to take a well-deserved rest and your phone starts ringing. If necessary, you can set up automated messages for urgent phone calls
  • For added comfort, you can try using a weighted blanket for better sleep or a quilt
  • Ensure you are in a dark place. Studies have shown that napping in dark places results in better memory than napping in brightly lit places
  • Try to sleep while lying down and not on a recliner chair. A sofa bed is a good choice for an afternoon nap.
  • If you are considering using a bed for your nap, you may want to ensure you have the right equipment to help get you out of bed safely
  • Make sure you have a comfortable mattress with the right kind of support for your needs
  • Avoid consumption of caffeine before your nap or nightly sleep
  • Using a heating pad is relaxing and beneficial for body aches and pains
  • Read the article on how to sleep with lower back pain to ensure low back pressure and support or you could try using a pillow in between your legs

Afternoon Napping for the Elderly – Final Words

Keeping these things in mind, it is very important that napping is not used to make up for a lack of sleep during the night. Adequate sleep of 6-8 hours depending on your sleep needs is important to reap the benefits of daytime napping. To ensure you get a good rest, you may consider reading the following articles:

So, the next time you find yourself feeling groggy or down, grab your blanket, ear plugs, eye mask and get napping!

 

References

Cousins, J. N., Leong, R. L. F., Jamaluddin, S. A., Ng, A. S. C., Ong, J. L., & Chee, M. W. L. (2021).Snoozing sleep between the night and a daytime nap reduces pressure while we are fast asleep and enhances long-term memory. Scientific Reports, 11(1).https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-84625-8

Krause, M., & Corts, D. (2012). Psychological Science: Modeling Scientific Literacy (1st ed.). Pearson Education.

Li, J., Cacchione, P., Hodgson, N., Riegel, B., Keenan, B., Scharf, M., Richards, K., & Gooneratne, N. (2017). Afternoon sleeping and Cognition in Older Adults of China: Findings from the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study Baseline Assessment. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (JAGS), 65 (2energy booster)energy booster,energy booster energy booster373-380. https://doi.org/10.1111/jgs.14368

Mental health of older adults. (2017, December 12). Who.Int. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-of-older-adults

Ong, J. L., Lau, T. Y., Lee, X. K., van Rijn, E., & Chee, M. W. L. (2020). A daytime nap restores hippocampal function and improves declarative learning. Sleep, 43 (9). https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsaa058

Qian, L., Ru, T., Chen, Q., Li, Y., Zhou, Y., & Zhou, G. (2020). Effects of bright light and an afternoon nap on task performance depend on the cognitive domain. Journal of Sleep Research. Published. https://doi.org/10.1111/jsr.13242