I’m all for findings that link naps to a lower risk of dementia

A university study suggesting the benefits of extra sleep makes sense to me

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by Ray Burow |

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Few caregivers have time to take naps, but I recently read study results in a June Sleep Health article that suggest short naps can benefit cognitive health. That could mean something as simple as a brief snooze could aid your fight against Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. I mean, win-win, right?

Most caregivers have needed a nap for way too long, and now there’s another reason to take one besides being tired. And being tired isn’t a viable reason for most dedicated caregivers, who view naps as a luxury. Maybe warding off dementia is a reason they’ll accept.

Sandwich generation caregivers like I was, who provide care for an elderly parent while also raising children, can only dream of naps (with eyes wide open, of course). During that season of life, I can remember jokingly telling my little son, “Please, take a nap. I’m begging you to stop and rest because one day, you’ll wish you could.” He ignored me. Little boys might need naps, but they don’t succumb until they absolutely must. Kids don’t toddle off to bed so their caregiving mom can live vicariously through their rest. But I digress.

The jury is still out on the health advantages of naps, but the authors of the Sleep Health article, “Is there an association between daytime napping, cognitive function, and brain volume? A Mendelian randomization study in the UK Biobank,” wrote, “We found a modest causal link between habitual napping and larger total brain volume.” A university press release on the same study stated that “daytime napping may help to preserve brain health by slowing the rate at which our brains shrink as we age.”

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Big brains

The study, from researchers at University College London and the University of the Republic in Uruguay, involved people between 4o and 69 years old. Our brains typically shrink with age, but researchers found that larger volumes are “a marker of good brain health [and] linked to a lower risk of dementia and other diseases.” The study further found that “Napping seems beneficial to performance on certain cognitive tasks.”

I mean, that makes sense, doesn’t it? Who doesn’t perform better when rested?

Neurological testing was part of my mother’s health regimen following her Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Her rate of decline was tested periodically. Among other things, she was asked to respond to specific questions and describe or define objects. My sister and I were convinced that our mother performed better when she’d rested well.

We wanted an accurate assessment of her disease stages, so we thought it imperative that her appointments followed an excellent night’s rest. We also believed those appointments should be scheduled in the morning, before the day’s activities made her tired.


Naps, especially short naps, I think, are a good thing. I know it’s challenging, but I recommend trying to sneak one in occasionally. That’s true for us all, including caregivers.

My mother used to nod off in her easy chair. Looking back, that was a perfect time for me to take a load off. I don’t think I ever did. Instead, I viewed her stillness as an opportunity to get things done, to make hay while the sun shined, as it were. Her naps were a missed opportunity for me.

Perhaps I would’ve performed better following a brief nap in the family room, sitting next to my snoozing mom. Maybe my brain’s volume would be bigger, as well.

Now’s the time to take a short nap

Caring for your loved one is your priority, but a little ingenuity could make a difference for both of you. Occasionally, my mother would lie down for a nap, and my sister would lie next to her on the same bed. Because my sister is a light sleeper, she’d know when my mother stirred and was alerted to her every need.

Try that. Sit close to your loved one or lie on the bed beside them when they’re napping. Take a short nap yourself. You’ll get some rest, probably lower your risk of dementia, and your loved one will feel your closeness.

I regret not taking short naps with my mother, and not merely because the recent study suggests it’s better for brain health. Maybe lying next to her or sitting close and napping together would have made her feel cozy and comforted.


Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.


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