Monday, August 11, 2014

Here's How a Nap Could Change Your Afternoon

A woman naps on a couch. 

Taking an afternoon nap can improve short-term memory in younger adults, but perhaps not in older adults, according to a new study. However, a little daytime shut-eye has other health benefits for the elderly.

In the study, participants took afternoon naps in a lab. Researchers gave the subjects a word-based memory test and measured their blood pressure before and after the nap. Upon waking, the younger adults were able to remember more words, while the older adults saw no memory improvement.

Healthy older adults did show a decrease in blood pressure after napping. But those with sleep apnea — a disorder in which people stop breathing while asleep — experienced increases in blood pressure, according to the study, presented here today (Aug. 8) at a meeting of the American Psychological Association. 

"The age-old idea is that sleep is a restorative process — it does good things for the body," said Michael Scullin, a sleep psychologist at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

Sleep, especially deep sleep, has been linked to memory consolidation and health in college-age adults. But older adults have shallower, more fragmented sleep, so it's unclear whether they get the same benefits from sleep that younger adults do.

"There's an increase in the number of people who are taking afternoon naps," Scullin told Live Science. "So we wanted to see whether afternoon naps can confer any of the same benefits that you might expect getting at night."

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