There is undoubtedly a link between sleep and wellness in older adults, which is why getting sufficient sleep at night is always included in tips for brain health. After all, it’s been shown in several studies to improve cognitive function. However, as a new study published in the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory shows, a nap during the day should also be included in tips for brain health and wellness in older adults, because it can help to improve memory.
For the study, 41 participants were asked to memorize a set of 90 single words and 120 random pairs of words before completing a memory recall test. Then half of the group took a nap while the rest watched a movie. They were then asked to complete the memory test again and although both groups did better the first time around, participants who took a 45 to 60-minute nap did much better on the second test than those who didn’t sleep at all. In fact, the sleepers almost matched their scores from the first test.
Interestingly, the link between naps and brain health and wellness were also captured through electroencephalogram (ECG) tests, which measured the participants’ brain activity while they slept. Researchers noticed that more sleep spindles occurred—sleep spindles are short bursts of rapid brain activity that refresh and consolidate memories while you snooze. Based on this finding, the researchers concluded that naps can have a positive impact on an individual’s ability to retain associative memories at a much better rate.
According to one of the study’s lead authors, sleeping for just 45 minutes to an hour can produce a “five-fold improvement in information retrieval from memory,” a clear indication that when it comes to tips for brain health and wellness for older adults, napping has some serious merit.
This isn’t the first study showing why napping should be included in tips for brain health and wellness. A 2008 study by the University of Haifa found that a 90-minute nap during the day accelerated the process of consolidation of long-term memories, which are the ones that are permanently engrained in you, the ones that don’t usually disappear, or at least not for many, many years. After a 90-minute nap, participants were not only able to perform tasks better after sleeping, but also showed improvements in remembering learned tasks the next day.
All of these findings demonstrate the possibility of sleep as a means to accelerate memory consolidation and, as a result, improve cognitive health and wellness for older adults. So the next time you’re having a hard time remembering something, try taking a power nap—you’ll be surprised at how quickly it’ll come back to you.
“Naps Help Your Memory, New Study Suggests,” Science Daily web site, January 8, 2008; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080107110401.htm.
“Neuropsychology: Power naps produce a significant improvement in memory performance,” Science Daily web site, March 20, 2015; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150320091315.htm.
Studte, S., et al., “Nap sleep preserves associative but not item memory performance,” Neurobiology of Learning and Memory 2015; 120; 84-93.