There’s nothing better than a refreshing daytime nap. And if you’ve been a HealthierTalk reader for a while, you know I’m not only a fan, I also encourage the right kind of napping.
In fact, as we age, slipping in a nap from time to time can lead to a bunch of potential benefits, from boosting immune function to protecting the heart.
But there’s also another kind of daytime nap.
It’s a necessary one. When you head to bed in the afternoon (or fall asleep in your chair) because you’re so exhausted, you simply have to knock out for extended periods.
Turns out that second type of nap not only isn’t refreshing. If it’s happening regularly, it could be a warning.
Excessive napping could be a red flag that there’s slow damage inside your brain. And according to new research, that damage could ultimately lead to cognitive decline and dementia.
So today, I will share how to spot the difference between a healthy nap and a dangerous one.
And if you’re in that second group, I’ve also got the actions that could help restore energy, protect your brain, and enhance your quality of life.
How to tell a GOOD nap from a BAD one
Every time one of these nap studies comes out, people see the headlines and start to panic. And, honestly, can you blame them?
The media makes it sound like anytime you sneak in 40 winks in the afternoon, it’s a death risk. And if you like to doze yourself, you’re in danger. But that’s simply not true.
Studies consistently show that a 30-40-minute daytime siesta can be a healthy habit. One that your body uses to rejuvenate and restore itself. In many cases, those little snooze sessions could even CUT your health risks over the long term.
A regular nap is only a problem when you start to sleep longer and longer because you’re so tuckered out that you simply can’t function. And that’s the issue behind the latest headlines.
It uncovers a “vicious cycle” effect between lengthier sleep and cognitive problems, including decline and Alzheimer’s disease.
Even if you’re perfectly healthy right now, you may be at risk for cognitive decline if…
- you start sleeping more during the day
- plus, you urgently NEED to sleep more
Once decline kicks in, even longer naps are a sign it’s likely to get worse.
So more daytime sleep leads to a greater likelihood of cognitive problems. This, in turn, triggers even more sleep. Then that leads to an even steeper decline and potentially dementia, too.
But keep in mind we all get exhausted from time to time. So if you’ve pushed yourself and need to grab a nap to recover, don’t panic. The pattern of consistent, necessary, and prolonged naps is the red flag you need to worry about.
What to do when you NEED a nap
The next part of the study is a huge letdown. It doesn’t explore why some people get more tired and need to increase their nap time each day.
It also looks like the researchers may be on the wrong track with their proposal for a future study. They plan to see if a “direct intervention” in daytime naps will cut Alzheimer’s risk.
What does that even mean? Poking sleepy seniors with a cattle prod when they start to nod off? And what would shaking folks awake do to reverse the process BEHIND the extra nap time?
In any case, the real issue here is almost certainly NOT the nap itself. It’s the cause – why you’re so tired during the day.
There could be several, but the most common is probably poor sleep at night. And that can take a steeper toll on your body and brain as you get older.
You see, good sleep at night is also crucial to your cognition. That’s when your brain releases a wave of cerebrospinal fluids that rush in, helping to sweep out toxins. And that includes the beta-amyloid that’s so closely linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
It’s essentially your own nightly deep cleanse. But when you miss out on sleep, this process is cut off, and the toxins start to accumulate.
And once again, an occasional bad night’s sleep followed by a rejuvenating nap is nothing to fret about. But when it keeps happening, you should take steps to fix the problem.
Protect your brain with better sleep at night
One of the simplest solutions to better sleep at night is to bump up your level of the “sleep hormone” melatonin. We tend to produce less of it as we age.
Taking a melatonin supplement can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. And that, in turn, should protect your brain and restore your daytime energy.
In other words, you can nap when you WANT to and not because you NEED to.
For more on the BENEFITS of taking a nap, including potentially helping with mild hypertension, see my earlier report, “Sleeper method cuts 5 points off blood pressure.”
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