napping as you age
napping as you age

How To Continue To Reap The Benefits Of Napping As You Get Older

Posted on February 17, 2023 by Henry Ford Health Staff
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Babies and young children do it every day, but they’re not the only ones who can benefit from a little extra sleep in the middle of the day. In fact, as we get older, the idea of an afternoon nap may not just be enticing, it may also boost your brain and body.

“A nap is refreshing at any age,” says Timothy A. Roehrs, Ph.D., a sleep medicine specialist at Henry Ford Health. “It can leave you feeling brighter, more energetic and clear your head.”

Why Napping Is Good For You

As you get older, you may not sleep as well or as long as you used to. But you don’t actually need less sleep than you did when you were younger. “Normal aging is associated with more disrupted sleep,” says Dr. Roehrs. “You may arouse more easily during the night, wake up more often to go to the bathroom or just spend fewer hours asleep.” Older adults are also more likely to experience sleep disorders—such sleep apnea or restless leg movements—that can disrupt your sleep.

If you’re not getting the sleep you need at night, you aren’t going to feel very well-rested during the day. That can affect your energy levels, your alertness, your ability to think and remember, and even your mood. “When you feel groggy, your mood is often depressed because of it,” says Dr. Roehrs. “Being alert gives you a feeling of robustness. You feel more energetic and that’s the basis for being able to think clearly.”

The biggest benefit of napping for older adults may be its effect on memory and cognitive function. Studies have shown that even in young, healthy adults, their ability to remember word pairs on a memory test is diminished when they’ve gotten only five hours of sleep the night before. “A midday nap is helpful at any age to help boost cognitive activity,” says Dr. Roehrs. “But since memory problems are often a natural function of aging, a midday nap is even more beneficial for older adults.”

Best Afternoon Nap Time

The key to successful napping all comes down to timing. Laying down to rest too late in the day—or for too long—can have negative consequences. But with the right timing and duration, a nap may be just the boost you need.

“Everybody has a midday dip in alertness that generally occurs somewhere between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.,” says Dr. Roehrs. “That is the optimal time for napping.”

But you definitely don’t want to sleep the entire afternoon away. According to Dr. Roehrs, the ideal duration of a nap is anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes—although even a 20-minute power nap can be beneficial. Sleeping longer than that will impact your sleep at night. “If you sleep too long in the middle of the day, your sleep at night becomes disrupted, and that can become a vicious cycle,” he says.

Napping When You Don’t Mean To

It’s important to differentiate between intended napping and unintended napping. While purposeful napping can be beneficial, unintentionally nodding off on the couch while reading a book or watching TV can be a sign of poor nighttime sleep.

“Unintended napping can be a red flag that you have a sleep disorder that is preventing you from getting adequate, restful sleep at night,” says Dr. Roehrs. If you find yourself routinely waking up with a book in your lap or having missed the last half of a movie, you should talk to your doctor. They can diagnose a sleep disorder and help you get the treatment you need to improve your sleep.


To find a physician or sleep specialist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.

Dr. Timothy Roehrs serves as Director of Research at the Sleep Disorders and Research Center of Henry Ford Health. He sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

Categories : FeelWell
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