There is some evidence that Alzheimer’s disease may increase napping, and that this, in turn, may worsen the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

This finding comes from a study of 1,401 older adults. It found that while napping generally increases with age, Alzheimer’s disease more than doubles the yearly increase in napping frequency or duration.

Likewise, this increase in napping due to Alzheimer’s had associations with worsened thinking abilities 1 year later.

Read on to learn more about the link between napping and Alzheimer’s disease, including whether it can be a symptom, whether napping can cause Alzheimer’s, and how much sleep people with Alzheimer’s should get.

An older man with Alzheimer's napping on a couch.Share on Pinterest
Westend61/Getty Images

Excessive napping could be a sign of Alzheimer’s disease, if it occurs alongside other potential symptoms, such as memory loss.

A 14-year study with 1,401 participants found that all adults napped more with age, but as Alzheimer’s disease progressed, the duration and frequency of daytime naps increased by twice as much.

Napping alone does not directly cause Alzheimer’s, but excessive napping could be a risk factor. This means it may elevate the risk a person will develop the condition but not guarantee it.

Research from 2019 involving 2,751 older men discovered that participants who napped for 120 minutes or more per day had a 66% increased chance of developing cognitive impairment over the next 12 years than those who napped less than 30 minutes per day.

Cognitive impairment can be a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease.

Naps may have neutral or even positive effects on a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, but it depends on their duration.

As the above research suggests, only longer naps had links with cognitive decline in older men. People who napped for less than 30 minutes did not have an increased risk of cognitive impairment.

Similarly, a 2021 study involving 389 older adults found that short naps could be beneficial for cognitive decline. Naps of less than 30 minutes reduced the risk over the course of 5 years.

As with other studies, the authors of the 2021 study noted that longer naps had a negative effect on cognition, but it is unclear why.

A 2020 review reports that napping is more common in older adults than in younger adults. So, to an extent, it is typical for an older person to start napping more as they age.

Older research from 2016 found that, in British adults of all ages, 28.6% of people took naps. The sample included individuals older and younger than age 65.

However, another 2016 study in China found 57.7% of older adults take naps after lunch for about an hour, which is considerably higher than the general population.

If studies on napping and cognitive decline are accurate, it may be better for people to take short naps rather than long ones, although more research is necessary to understand the relationship between nap duration and cognition.

Most adults, including older adults, require approximately 7–9 hours of sleep per night. This includes those with dementia.

However, sleep schedules can be different for those with Alzheimer’s. It may cause a person to feel too sleepy in the daytime or too awake at night.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends the following to help people with Alzheimer’s sleep better:

  • Physical activity: Try to help the person get exercise and get outdoors every day. Schedule busy activities away from a person’s sleep. For example, time for socializing or eating the main meal of the day could be around lunchtime instead of the evening.
  • Limit caffeine: Switch to decaffeinated versions of tea, coffee, or soda.
  • Limit naps: Daytime naps may make it harder for a person to sleep at night. If they have gotten into a routine of daytime napping, try to gradually reduce this, 30 minutes or an hour at a time, until they sleep more regularly at night and less during the day.
  • Bedtime routine: Maintain a regular bedtime routine to help the person get to sleep. This could include activities such as reading, listening to the radio or audiobooks, or having a bath. Try to do this routine at the same time every evening.
  • Set a peaceful mood: This could include playing soothing music, dimming the lights, and avoiding the use of screens. If the person is likely to get up in the night, keep the lights dim or use nightlights in the bedroom or hallways.

People who are concerned about excessive napping or daytime sleepiness that has lasted more than 2–3 weeks should speak with a doctor.

There are many reasons why a person could have this symptom. If they do not have signs of Alzheimer’s, they could be experiencing a sleep disorder, side effects from medication, or another underlying condition. A doctor will be able to help identify the root cause.

If a person has a family history of Alzheimer’s, they may also benefit from speaking with a doctor about ways to lower the risk.

There may be a bidirectional relationship between napping and Alzheimer’s disease. This means that napping may be both a sign of the condition and a risk factor for worsening symptoms.

However, researchers do not yet understand why this is. Some research indicates that naps could be beneficial for cognitive decline if they are short, lasting less than 30 minutes.

To an extent, it is typical for older adults to take more naps than younger adults, but excessive sleepiness could be a sign of an underlying condition. If someone appears to feel overly tired for 2–3 weeks, they should speak with a doctor.