Naps Are Great! Naps Are Awful! Here’s the Actual Science
Plus: Coffee is good for the heart, and spotting mild cognitive impairment
Welcome back to Age Wise, your weekly update on the science of physical health and mental wellness at every stage of life. Here’s what’s new and interesting:
Naps can be good for you, or bad for you, depending on a slew of factors. With the help of a new study, I’ve sussed out the science of napping.
There is evidence that afternoon naps can improve cognitive ability, boost recall after cramming for a test, tamp down impulsivity and frustration, and more generally enhance overall mental performance.
But that doesn’t mean naps are for everyone. And, in fact, while some people (like me) love a good nap, others can’t stand them. Grogginess is a chief complaint. But there’s much more to it:
Excessive napping in older people predicts a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s nap more as they age, the new study finds. It’s a “vicious cycle,” says Peng Li, PhD, a researcher in the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and first author of the study paper.
There’s too much to know for a short summary, so you might want to read the article to find out if napping is wise for you or not.
Speaking of Naps: Sleep Problems Are Not News
Last week, media outlets covered a web-based U.S. survey done jointly by a polling firm and a mattress retailer that found about ⅓ of the respondents said their sleep the night before was fair or poor. Two reasons why I did not write about this: First, it’s not news—we’ve known for many years that about ⅓ of Americans don’t sleep well; second, I don’t report on sleep surveys that are conducted by a company that stands to benefit from the publicity of the results. So, yeah, no link here, except to my feature story from three years ago in which I explain the real problem with America’s sleep problem:
Seemingly solid information and advice — doled out by government agencies, supposed sleep experts, journalists, medical institutions and, of course, the pharmaceutical industry — are often based on nonexistent references or studies that in many cases are small and inconclusive, outdated or funded by the sleep-aid industry.
I don’t question whether ⅓ of Americans could benefit from better sleep. I simply point out that the data suggest ⅔ of Americans are sleeping just fine, and the last thing anyone needs is sleeping pills that don’t work as billed and which have dangerous side effects. If you struggle with sleep, see my latest articles on the topic:
Living Longer AND in Good Health
A new study finds British people 65 and older are living longer and better. It’s a convoluted finding, and I wouldn’t read too much into it, but here’s the upshot:
It's likely that older people are faring better because of improved treatments for various chronic ills, plus changes for the better in lifestyle and environment.
"Treatments for conditions like stroke, coronary heart disease and diabetes have become much better, and people are treated earlier," said the study’s lead researcher, Carol Jagger, professor of the epidemiology of aging at Newcastle University. "Smoking rates have been reduced as well, which will have contributed."
OK. So. You can count on medical advancements to make your later years better, or you can be proactive. Here are three things you can do to greatly enhance your odds of living longer and staying healthy (that is, enjoying your later years):
Coffee Does Much More Than Perk You Up
I’ve written numerous times about the health benefits of coffee. Now this:
Two or three cups a day promotes good heart health and longer life not only among healthy individuals, but also in people with various types of heart disease.
While your mileage may vary, this new study adds to much other clear evidence that coffee is good for most people. In fact, it should be “included as a part of a healthy diet for people with and without heart disease,” says study leader Peter Kistler, MD, a professor and researcher at the Alfred Hospital and Baker Heart Institute in Melbourne, Australia. (The FDA agrees, BTW.)
Can I get a science-based amen?
Elusive Diagnosis: Mild Cognitive Impairment
The slide into dementia can be long and slow and may start much earlier than you realize, and while there’s no cure, there are ways to help prevent or delay the onset or progression of the disease. But it can be really, really hard to know if you or a loved one is headed down that slippery slope, experts say in a new overview of “mild cognitive impairment,” an effect with many potential causes.
What might seem like a decline in thinking skills or memory can, for example, be a sign not of looming dementia but of sleep problems, stress, or other issues that may be highly treatable. But failing to treat these causes can, indeed, raise the risk of dementia later on.
If people avoid seeing a doctor for their symptoms, "they're not going to open the door to finding out what the underlying cause is.”
The point: If you can’t remember names, appointments or where you left your keys, don’t panic. But do ask the people around you if they’re noticing changes, and if you’re concerned your mind may be declining, don’t assume that’s normal, and seek expert help.