Study Shows Napping in Moderation May Save Your Life

Researchers find that you can protect your heart simply by napping. But how often? The results will surprise you.

By Andrea Pisani Babich
Woman power napping

There’s new evidence that power naps may be even more powerful than previously thought when indulged in moderation. A new study published in the journal Heart concluded that one or two naps per week can significantly lower your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Interestingly, the same cannot be said for more frequent naps. It appears that when it comes to naps, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Researchers in Switzerland set out to find just how much is too much. The conclusions were as surprising as they were controversial.

Napping Study Details and Results

In an effort to determine the optimal frequency and duration of naps for cardiovascular health, the researchers monitored the health of 3,462 randomly selected participants aged 35 to 75 for five years. Before the five-year monitoring period, participants reported how often they had napped the previous week.

  • 58% reported that they had not napped at all the previous week.
  • 19% said they took one or two naps.
  • 12% said they took three to five naps.
  • 11% reported napping every day or almost every day of the week.

Over the course of the five-year study, researchers recorded 155 fatal and non-fatal heart problems including heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure. But when they looked to see which participants suffered cardiovascular events, they found that subjects who napped once or twice weekly reduced their risk of serious heart issues by 48% when compared to non-napping participants.

Surprisingly, subjects who napped more often than twice per week saw no reduced risk. And it didn’t matter how long the naps lasted. Twice weekly five-minute naps reduced cardiovascular risks just as much as the same number of naps lasting an hour or more.

Controversial Conclusions

The results of this study raise as many questions as they attempt to answer. According to an editorial response by Drs.Yue Leng and Kristine Gaffe of the University of California at San Francisco, it would be “premature to conclude on the appropriateness of napping for maintaining optimal heart health” because the study offers no clear definition of what exactly constitutes a nap. When participants reported napping, were they referring to simply lying down and closing their eyes or did they actually enter one or more of the four sleep stages during their naps?

Furthermore, the results of the study relied on self-reporting based on participants’ recall, which may not always be accurate. And since the researchers performed an observational study, no causal link can be inferred from the association between once or twice weekly naps and a decreased risk of heart disease related events.

However, the study’s data does offer tantalizing evidence that napping frequency is an important factor in determining the effects of napping on cardiovascular health. That is an important discovery in the sleep research community. Previous studies that did not take napping frequency into account have offered conflicting conclusions about the connection between napping and heart health, making it difficult so far to offer recommendations to people interested in safeguarding their cardiovascular health.

This article is not intended to be medical advice. If you have concerns about your heart health, always consult your primary care physician.

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