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Study: Naps may cut heart deaths

Feb. 12, 2007
Special to World Science  

Being caught napping may be stressful. But nap­ping itself may actually re­lieve stress and do the heart good, re­search­ers have found. 

Sci­en­tists at the Har­vard School of Pub­lic Health in Bos­ton, Mass. and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ath­ens Med­i­cal School in Greece found that mid­day naps, al­so called sies­tas, were as­so­ci­a­ted with a drop in heart dis­ease death risk of about a third.

Naps may help the heart by re­liev­ing stress, re­search­ers say, not­ing that a study found the ef­fect strongest among work­ers. (Im­age cour­te­sy US­DA/NRCS)


The re­search­ers stud­ied 23,681 peo­ple in Greece who, at the out­set, had no past strokes, can­cer or cor­o­nary heart dis­ease—the do­mi­nant cause of heart-related deaths, in­clud­ing heart at­tack, the most com­mon cause of death in most west­ern coun­tries. 

The sci­en­tists tracked par­ti­ci­pants for over six years on av­er­age. 

Sies­tas are com­mon in the Med­i­ter­ra­nean ar­ea, where heart dis­ease death rates are low. Some pri­or stud­ies had looked at the link, but this was the first large pro­spec­tive study of peo­ple who were healthy at the start, the re­search­ers said. A pro­spec­tive study is one whose par­ti­ci­pants are iden­ti­fied, then fol­lowed for­ward in time.

The study was al­so the first to con­trol in de­tail for risk fac­tors such as di­et and phys­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ty, the in­ves­ti­ga­tors said. The find­ings ap­pear in the Feb. 12 is­sue of the re­search jour­nal Ar­chives of In­ter­nal Med­i­cine.

Peo­ple who napped at least three times week­ly for half an hour on av­er­age had a 37 per­cent low­er cor­o­nary mor­tal­i­ty than non-nappers, the sci­en­tists re­ported. Sies­tas’ ap­par­ent pro­tec­tive ef­fect was strongest among work­ing men, they added; work­ing wom­en had too few deaths to al­low firm con­clu­sions.

Past stud­ies have found that the sleep-health re­la­tion­ship is com­plex. For in­stance, a pa­per in the Feb­ru­ary, 2002 is­sue of the jour­nal Ar­chives of Gen­er­al Psy­chi­a­try sug­gested that ex­ces­sive sleep ac­tu­al­ly in­creases mor­tal­i­ty, and the best sur­viv­al was found among those who slept sev­en hours night­ly. But that study fo­cused on night sleep, not af­ter­noon naps. 

The new stu­dy’s au­thors said an af­ter­noon si­es­ta may help the heart by al­le­vi­at­ing stress. Past re­search has also found that an af­ter­noon nap boosts pro­duct­ivity. Di­mi­trios Tri­cho­pou­los, se­nior au­thor of the new stu­dy, said he’ll stop short of offer­ing any re­com­mend­a­tions based on it, “un­til it is con­firmed.” But if you’ve been nap­ping, keep do­ing so, he sug­gested.


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Taking naps may be good for your heart, researchers have found. Scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Mass. and the University of Athens Medical School in Greece found that midday naps, also called siestas, reduced heart disease death risk by about one third among men and women. The researchers studied 23,681 people in Greece who, at the study’s outset, had no past strokes, cancer or coronary heart disease—the most frequent cause of heart-related deaths, including heart attack, the most common cause of death in most western countries. The scientists tracked partici pants for over six years on average. Siestas are common in the Mediterranean area, where heart disease death rates are also low. Some prior studies had looked at the link, but this was the first large prospective study of people who were healthy at the start, the researchers said. A prospective study is one whose partici pants are identified, then followed forward in time. The study was also the first to control in detail for risk factors such as diet and physical activity, the invest igators said. The findings appear in the Feb. 12 issue of the research journal Archives of Internal Medicine. People who napped at least three times weekly for half an hour on average had a 37% lower coronary mortality than non-nappers, the scientists reported. Siestas’ apparent protective effect was strongest among working men, the scientists said; working women had too few deaths to allow firm conclusions. Past studies have found that the sleep-health relationship is complex. For instance, a paper in the February, 2002 issue of the research journal Archives of General Psychiatry suggested that excessive sleep actually increases mortality, and the best survival was found among those who slept seven hours nightly. But that study focused on night sleep, not afternoon naps. The new study’s authors said an afternoon siesta may help the heart by relieving stress—so if you can take an afternoon nap, do.