Effects of afternoon "siesta" naps on sleep, alertness, performance, and circadian rhythms in the elderly

Sleep. 2001 Sep 15;24(6):680-7. doi: 10.1093/sleep/24.6.680.


Study objectives: To determine the effects of a 90-minute afternoon nap regimen on nocturnal sleep, circadian rhythms, and evening alertness and performance levels in the healthy elderly.

Design and setting: Nine healthy elderly subjects (4m, 5f, age range 74y-87y) each experienced both nap and no-nap conditions in two studies each lasting 17 days (14 at home, 3 in the laboratory). In the nap condition a 90-minute nap was enforced between 13:30 and 15:00 every day, in the no-nap condition daytime napping was prohibited, and activity encouraged in the 13:30-15:00 interval. The order of the two conditions was counterbalanced.

Participants: N/A.

Interventions: N/A.

Measurements: Diary measures, pencil and paper alertness tests, and wrist actigraphy were used at home. In the 72 hour laboratory studies, these measures were augmented by polysomnographic sleep recording, continuous rectal temperature measurement, a daily evening single trial of a Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT), and computerized tests of mood, activation and performance efficiency.

Results: By the second week in the "at home" study, an average of 58 minutes of sleep was reported per siesta nap; in the laboratory, polysomnography confirmed an average of 57 minutes of sleep per nap. When nap and no-nap conditions were compared, mixed effects on nocturnal sleep were observed. Diary measures indicated no significant difference in nocturnal sleep duration, but a significant increase (of 38 mins.) in 24-hour Total Sleep Time (TST) when nocturnal sleeps and naps were added together (p<0.025). The laboratory study revealed a decrease of 2.4% in nocturnal sleep efficiency in the nap condition (p<0.025), a reduction of nocturnal Total Sleep Time (TST) by 48 mins. in the nap condition (p<0.001) which resulted primarily from significantly earlier waketimes (p<0.005), but no reliable effects on Wake After Sleep Onset (WASO), delta sleep measures, or percent stages 1 & 2. Unlike the diary study, the laboratory study yielded no overall increase in 24-hour TST consequent upon the siesta nap regimen. The only measure of evening alertness or performance to show an improvement was sleep latency in a single-trial evening MSLT (nap: 15.6 mins., no nap: 11.5 mins., p<0.005). No significant change in circadian rhythm parameters was observed.

Conclusions: Healthy seniors were able to adopt a napping regimen involving a 90-minute siesta nap each day between 13:30 and 15:00, achieving about one hour of actual sleep per nap. There were some negative consequences for nocturnal sleep in terms of reduced sleep efficiency and earlier waketimes, but also some positive consequences for objective evening performance and (in the diary study) 24-hour sleep totals. Subjective alertness measures and performance measures showed no reliable effects and circadian phase parameters appeared unchanged.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Disorders of Excessive Somnolence / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Polysomnography
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Sleep*
  • Time Factors