Link Between Excessive Napping and Alzheimer’s

Taking a long nap on a cold, dreary fall day is one of life’s great pleasures, but excessive daytime sleepiness may spell trouble for older adults, according to a new study supported by the National Institute on Aging.

Research, published last month in the journal Sleep, found that older adults who felt sleepy during the daytime when they wanted to be alert were nearly 3 times more likely to have deposits of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.  Sleep disruption among older adults is not uncommon but unwelcome frequent napping in the day may be a sign of the beginnings of a cognitive problem that warrants further investigation. 

The study, which included 124 men and women with an average age of 60 who were cognitively healthy at the beginning of the research period, takes a closer look at napping habits and reports of daytime sleepiness.  Brain scans were compared at the beginning of the study and 16 years later.  Researchers found that participants who reported excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) were greater than 2.5 times more likely to have amyloid deposits in the brain.

Although daytime napping is common among older adults, excessive sleepiness; not being able to stay awake during the day, may be linked with Alzheimer’s disease.   Sleep disruption has become a consideration in calculating the risk for AD, and several studies have linked poor sleep with cognitive impairment and decline. 

The study is significant, shedding light on one of the possible early signs of cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease, allowing for earlier diagnosis, treatment and one day, prevention.   Diet and exercise along with getting proper sleep at night could help adults lower their risk for dementia in older age and doctors who ask about sleep habits during regular checkups could help identify patients who may require follow-up testing for Alzheimer’s.