Napping is a common way that people deal with lack of adequate sleep, giving them the feeling that they’re “catching up” on the shuteye that they missed. While Sleepline readers will know that catching up on sleep is a myth, it turns out that there are in fact some health benefits to your afternoon snooze session.
A new study shows that napping can cut in half the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and heart disease when compared to people who never nap.
More frequent napping doesn’t reduce your risk any further. “In fact, we found that frequent nappers had initially a higher risk for incident cardiovascular disease,” said lead author Nadine Hausler, a postdoctoral researcher at University Hospital of Lausanne in Switzerland. “However, when we took sociodemographic, lifestyle and cardiovascular risk factors into account, this increased risk disappeared.”
“In fact, we found that frequent nappers had initially a higher risk for incident cardiovascular disease. However, when we took sociodemographic, lifestyle and cardiovascular risk factors into account, this increased risk disappeared.”– Nadine Hausler, Postdoctoral researcher at University Hospital of Lausanne
The findings surprised researchers and sleep experts.
“I don’t think it’s anything definitive, in terms of whether napping is actually helpful or not helpful,” said Marie-Pierre St-Onge, director of the sleep program at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City.
The issue that many experts have with napping is that they believe that it’s indicative of poor nighttime sleep quality, a sign of poor health.
“This throws a little bit of a curveball, because they found one to two naps per week might be beneficial,” St-Onge said.
How was the study conducted?
Researchers looked at the napping patterns of approximately 3,500 randomly selected people in Switzerland. They then tracked their heart health for five years.
Three in five of the study’s participants reported that they didn’t nap at all. One out every five participants claimed that they napped just once or twice per week. The same number of people told researchers that they napped three or more times per week.
The study, published in the journal Heart, revealed some important information about frequent nappers:
- Typically older men
- Generally have a tobacco habit
- Frequently overweight
- Reported sleeping longer at night compared to non-nappers
- Reported more daytime sleepiness
- More likely to have sleep apnea
Results of the study
During the five year followup, the study’s participants had 155 heart events, encompassing both fatal and non-fatal events. A “heart event” includes incidents such as heart attacks, strokes, and heart disease caused by clogged arteries that required surgical reopening.
The researchers found that napping just once or twice per week cut the risk of heart failure, heart attacks, and strokes by 48% compared to people didn’t nap at all.
By contrast, frequent napping initially appeared to increase the risk of adverse heart events by a whopping 67%. Fortunately researchers were able to determine that the risk disappeared after accounting for other risk factors.
Dr. Martha Gulati, a cardiologist who is editor-in-chief of CardioSmart.org, the American College of Cardiology’s patient website, thinks that it makes sense that napping frequently could be an indication of bigger health problems.
Gulati said, “I worry that somebody that naps every day isn’t getting good sleep,” she said. “Somebody who takes six or seven naps a week, I ask, are you not sleeping well at night? Is that how you’re catching up with your sleep?”
Gulati continued, “But I am still going to enjoy my Sunday naps, and now say I am working on lowering my risk for heart disease when my husband asks.”
“I worry that somebody that naps every day isn’t getting good sleep,” she said. “Somebody who takes six or seven naps a week, I ask, are you not sleeping well at night? Is that how you’re catching up with your sleep?”– Dr. Martha Gulati, cardiologist and editor-in-chief of CardioSmart.org
Why does napping reduce heart risks?
Researcher Hausler stated that she couldn’t say exactly why napping provides these health benefits.
“The mechanisms are not straightforward,” she said. “We assume that occasional napping might be a result of a physiological compensation allowing to decrease the stress due to insufficient nocturnal sleep and, thus, could have a beneficial effect on cardiovascular disease events.”
She said that follow-up studies would be needed to confirm the results, but that she’s confident in stating that an occasional nap can potentially reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease for healthy adults.