Do you feel guilty when you indulge in an afternoon nap? If you’re an older adult, give yourself permission to grab those zzz’s. They’re important. Regular siestas not only give your body a break, they boost your brain’s abilities, just as they do for young children. That’s what a team of scientists discovered when they looked at the napping habits of over 2,200 Chinese volunteers, all 60 years old or older.

People in the study were divided into two groups — those who took naps on a regular basis and those who went through their days without one. Naps ranged in length from between five minutes to two hours. Participants' memory, language and other cognitive abilities were measured using the Mini-Mental State Examination and a Chinese version of the Montreal Cognitive Assessment.

Napping may even do more than help keep you sharp. Too little sleep is associated with a buildup of the proteins connected to Alzheimer’s disease.

Nappers did better on every kind of mental test compared to people who stayed awake all day. “This study found that a proper nap is beneficial for cognitive function, so we encourage the elderly to take a nap,” the study’s lead author, Cai Han, a geriatric psychiatrist in the Fourth People’s Hospital of Wuhu in China, said in a statement.

Not everyone finds it easy to settle in for an afternoon nap. What can you do if falling asleep during the day doesn’t come naturally? Try some of these tips offered by the Sleep Foundation:

  • Create a sleep-friendly environment that is dark, cool and quiet. Ideally, with a comfy mattress available.
  • Set your worries aside. If you’re going over a to-do list in your head instead of unwinding, you won’t get the benefits of a midday nap. If you have trouble unwinding, try relaxation exercises like tensing and releasing different parts of your body, or taking long slow breaths.
  • Choose the best time to snooze. Try planning your nap halfway between the time you wake up and the time you normally tuck in for the night. Napping too late in the day can affect your ability to fall asleep at night.
  • Napping may even do more than keep you sharp. Other studies have shown that too little sleep is associated with a buildup of proteins connected to Alzheimer’s, even in younger adults. And sleep isn’t just good for your brain; it’s also good for your heart.

    The study is published in General Psychiatry.