Six tips to keep you going and avoid the afternoon nap

Six tips to keep you going and avoid the afternoon nap

It seems to me that there are two types of people as we reach what is often called the “third age”.

Those who swear by an afternoon nap and those who resist having one at all costs, believing that they “haven’t reached that stage yet”! 

I confess I’m in the latter camp and if I am slightly sleepy during the day, I’m much more likely to go for a walk in the fresh air than decide to lie down. 

I have a younger brother though, who has been scheduling an afternoon nap into his busy timetable for ages, and he’s a sprightly, mentally acute 72-year-old who is still working full time. Clearly, he finds a bit of daytime shut-eye beneficial. But we’re all different, aren’t we? 

However, last week, a newspaper headline caught my eye. You may have noticed it too. It read: “Brief doze may delay brain shrinkage”.

Now, I’m always alert to any health messages offering advice on how to keep our brains in good shape, so I read the report, which was on research conducted by scientists at UCL and the University of the Republic in Uruguay. 

Several findings were highlighted, one was that for some people, “short daytime naps may be a part of the puzzle that could help preserve the health of the brain as we get older”. 

But the study also showed that some individuals seem to be more genetically disposed to napping than others. So, it’s a complicated issue. 

Indeed, many specialists in dementia have long believed that men and women who take lengthy naps on a regular basis – often sleeping several times during the day – are much more prone to developing Alzheimer’s than individuals who only sleep at night. 

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So, regarding the new research, it would probably be sensible to focus on the word “brief”, and unwise for anyone to decide that all they need to do to boost their brain health is to take an afternoon nap.  

Of course, when people become seriously ill, they sleep more and more. But this research isn’t relevant to them. It’s really about those of us who are still living active and viable lives. However, it does only concern itself with a small part of a very much larger picture. 

Most experts seem to subscribe to the view that our brain’s ageing process is dependent on a vast number of factors.

These include genetics, various illnesses and conditions such as diabetes, how much exercise someone takes, how many friends they have, what their normal sleep pattern is like, what medications they are on, and how healthy their gut is – there being increasing medical focus on our digestive system and a growing understanding  that it’s a key influence on so much of our physical and mental health. 

So, because it’s likely we need to adopt a number of behaviours if we want to keep our brains in as good a shape as possible, I’ve drawn up a list of the most commonly given advice on the subject:    
•    Exercise energetically and regularly. The world-famous Mayo Clinic in America stresses that this is the most important of all health messages concerning our cognitive ability. Numerous research projects have shown how exercise builds volume in the brain. I first encountered this development almost 15 years ago when I read a fascinating book called Spark! by John Ratey, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. It’s still available if you’re interested.  It completely changed my outlook on ageing. 

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  • Maintain a good social network. A large number of scientific studies have concluded that loneliness is very damaging for our minds and bodies.  
  • Remain keen to try something new. Learning a musical instrument or a foreign language, for example, can be particularly effective in building new connections and volume in our brains.
  • Tackle puzzles like Sudoku, crosswords and codewords frequently. 
  • Eat a Mediterranean-style diet with special emphasis on colourful plant foods. Good olive oil too, and other healthy fats, are widely credited as important in reducing coronary disease and slowing mental decline. 
  • Aim for seven to eight consecutive hours sleep a night.

If you adopt these tips, you’ll be giving yourself a good chance of reducing, or delaying, brain shrinkage. 

But to return to this week’s news, I think it’s entirely reasonable to accept that taking a daily nap of not more than 30 minutes could be one of the ways we might look after our brains.

And given how hot it’s been recently, which has made night-time sleeping really difficult for so many of us, perhaps now is a good time to establish such a routine in the hope of catching up on some of the slumber that is eluding us.  

In fact, I may even break the habit of a lifetime and lie down and try to get an additional forty winks myself.   

  • June 25, 2023