Daytime napping among older people is a normal part of aging – but it may also foreshadow Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. And once dementia or its usual precursor, mild cognitive impairment, are diagnosed, the frequency and/or duration of napping accelerates rapidly, according to a new study.
The study, led by UC San Francisco, and Harvard Medical School together with Brigham and Women’s Hospital, its teaching affiliate, departs from the theory that daytime napping in older people serves merely to compensate for poor nighttime sleep. Instead, it points to work by other UCSF researchers suggesting that dementia may affect the wake-promoting neurons in key areas of the brain, the researchers state in their paper publishing March 17 in Alzheimer’s and Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.
“We found the association between excessive daytime napping and dementia remained after adjusting for nighttime quantity and quality of sleep,” said co-senior author Yue Leng, MD, PhD, of the UCSF Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.
“This suggested that the role of daytime napping is important itself and is independent of nighttime sleep,” said Leng, who partnered with Kun Hu, PhD, of Harvard Medical School, in senior-authoring the paper.
Watch-Like Devices, Annual Evaluations Used to Measure Naps, Cognition
In the study, the researchers tracked data from 1,401 seniors, who had been followed for up to 14 years by the Rush Memory and Aging Project at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago. The participants, whose average age was 81 and of whom approximately three-quarters were female, wore a watch-like device that tracked mobility. Each prolonged period of non-activity from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. was interpreted as a nap.