Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Although you would think a medicine that can reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems by 48% would be widely publicized, few people talk about the simple, free, and readily available way to decrease heart disease risk: napping.
Mixed Research Data on Napping
For years, research data on napping have been inconsistent. Some earlier studies suggest that those who nap have a greater risk of developing high blood pressure and having a stroke. However, recent research suggests that the napping itself was not harmful. Rather, it may be that those who were napping frequently were doing so because they were experiencing poor sleep at night, and they were napping to make up for their lost sleep. Also, some of the study participants in these earlier studies performed night-shift work and “napped” during the day.
The Importance of Healthy Napping
One of the keys to healthy napping appears to be nap frequency. A study of 3,500 individuals who took naps but had no history of cardiovascular disease found that those who napped 1-2 times a week were 48% less likely to experience cardiovascular problems like heart attack, stroke, or heart failure than those who didn't nap at all. However, those benefits were lost when individuals napped 6-7 times a week. The duration of the nap did not seem to make any difference, as long as one wasn't "making up" for lost nighttime sleep.
Napping and Sleep Deprivation
The importance of sleep is a topic I’ve talked about for decades. “Official” estimates are that 1 in every 3 adults in the U.S. don’t get enough sleep. Personally, I think that estimate is low. It's well-documented that sleep deprivation is linked to cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and depression. For many, napping is a warning sign of underlying sleep disorders. Napping for someone with chronic insomnia only makes it more difficult to sleep at night. If you have to nap to get through the day, the first order of business is to remedy your nightly sleep issues.
Tips for Healthy Napping
Once any nighttime sleep issues are resolved, following these guidelines can help to derive the benefits of napping:
- Nap sometime between noon and 2 p.m.
- Limit your naps to 15-20 minutes.
- Avoid napping later in the day to avoid interference with nighttime sleep.
- Only nap after 1 p.m. if you experience acid reflux or digestive issues.
- Ensure that you don't "make up" for lost nighttime sleep by napping too often.
The benefits of napping for cardiovascular health are significant. However, the key is to ensure that napping is not a substitute for poor nighttime sleep. Following healthy sleep habits and incorporating napping into your routine can help decrease your risk of heart disease.