Are you a nap lover, or do you prefer to stay awake until bedtime? I’m a fan of both — I take a 20-minute snooze if I really need it, but try to keep napping to a minimum so as not to disturb my nighttime sleep. However, research suggests that routine naps might be better for you than random ones.
According to a 2019 study published in Heart, an international journal of The BMJ, napping one to two times per week may lower your risk of a cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack or stroke. Napping more frequently than that didn’t seem to have the same benefit, which suggests that there’s a happy medium.
Understanding the Research
As explained by the study authors, there is conflicting research on whether napping truly helps reduce the effects (and lower the risk) of cardiovascular disease. So, the authors decided to design a study to find a more definitive answer. They collected data on 3,462 members of the Swiss population and followed up with them periodically for a little over five years. At the initial meeting, the researchers asked the volunteers series of questions to get an idea of their sleep and nap habits. They also recorded health data on each participant, and made sure no participants had diagnosed cardiovascular disease at the start of the study.
The study authors divided the participants into four groups: those who didn’t nap and those who took either one to two, three to five, or six to seven naps weekly. In following up with the volunteers over five years later, they recorded 155 “cardiovascular events” among all 3,462 participants. (Cardiovascular events included heart attacks, strokes, or a diagnosis of heart disease.)
Overall, those who took one to two naps weekly were less likely to have suffered from a cardiovascular event. In addition, these participants tended to have lower blood pressure than non-nappers. This was true even after the researchers adjusted the data for age, sex, smoking status, weight, physical activity levels, and other factors. The length of time that people napped didn’t seem to have much effect on cardiovascular health. (In other words, a short nap of zero to 30 minutes a day may be just as beneficial as a long nap of 45 minutes or longer.)
Why might naps be so beneficial?
As the study authors theorized, frequent naps might help even out the damage of a poor night’s sleep. Chronic health issues (such as having to get up often in the middle of the night to pee) can make it difficult to get uninterrupted sleep, and those extra naps could have helped some participants get in more full sleep cycles.
In addition, the authors wondered whether one to two weekly naps helped ease stress and anxiety. Taking a quick break to get even just 15 minutes of rest could lower blood pressure, and therefore reduce the likelihood of a cardiovascular event.
Limitations of the Study
While the researchers were able to control for a wide variety of factors, they did note that the study had some downsides. For example, some of the participants had obstructive sleep apnea or excessive daytime sleepiness. Sleep apnea increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and other health issues on its own, so this could have swayed the results. And excessive daytime sleepiness could also increase the risk of health issues.
Still, the results are in line with other research studies on the subject — suggesting that there is some truth to the theory that a few naps have impressive cardiac benefits. So, if you ever needed a good excuse to get a little extra shut eye, this is it! And don’t worry about the length of your nap. Try a few different lengths of time to see what works for you, and before you know it, you could have the best sleep schedule of your life.