New Study Suggests That a Nap Can Save Your Life

"It is time to start unveiling the power of naps for a supercharged heart."

Flickr / Michael Chaize

Naps are pretty great, right? Well, it turns out they might save your life. A new peer-reviewed, observational study published in the journal Heart has identified a napping sweet spot of sorts, and it might mean you’ll want to adjust your schedule.

Researchers found that one or two naps a week could reduce your chance of having a heart attack or a stroke, after studying 3,462 randomly selected residents of Lausanne, Switzerland, between the ages of 35 and 75.

Over the course of three years, the researchers had the participants check in weekly and report their sleeping habits from the previous week. The researchers tracked the health of the participants for five years following the end of the three-year period. 

Nearly 60 percent of participants said they were not napping. Around one in five said they napped one or two times per week. Almost a quarter said they took three or more naps per week. (The researchers observed 155 fatal and non-fatal cardiovascular disease events during the monitoring period.)

Napping Occasionally Is Best for Your Cardiovascular Health

It appears napping occasionally is best for your cardiovascular health. Those who napped once or twice a week were found to have a 48 percent lower likelihood of having a heart attack or stroke.

There’s disappointing news for advocates of a daily nap, though: The researchers did not observe the same change in cardiovascular health for those who napped more frequently than once or twice a week.

The researchers also did not find that nap duration was especially important when it comes to cardiovascular health. One of the challenges the researchers faced is there isn’t a “gold standard,” as they put it, for what is considered a nap.

Why Isn’t There a Nap Gold Standard?

This is actually a subject of fierce debate. Sleep researchers have never officially defined the nap, and different cultures view naps differently. (How long is a nap? I would say between 10 minutes and three hours, but that’s just me.) Sleep researchers say a nap between 20 and 30 minutes in the early afternoon is the perfect nap.

You may be at work during optimal napping time, which means you might have to pull a George Costanza and sleep in the fort you’ve created under your desk.

The researchers indicate there’s still quite a bit of research to do before we’ll understand how naps and cardiovascular health are related, but they feel this study is a good start.

“The study of napping is a challenging but also a promising field with potentially significant public health implications,” the study concludes. “While there remain more questions than answers, it is time to start unveiling the power of naps for a supercharged heart.”

Objective: There is controversy regarding the effect of napping on cardiovascular disease (CVD), with most studies failing to consider napping frequency. We aimed to assess the relationship of napping frequency and average nap duration with fatal and non-fatal CVD events.
Methods: 3462 subjects of a Swiss population based cohort with no previous history of CVD reported their nap frequency and daily nap duration over a week, and were followed over 5.3 years. Fatal and nonfatal CVD events were adjudicated. Cox regressions were performed to obtain HRs adjusted for major cardiovascular risk factors and excessive daytime sleepiness or obstructive sleep apnoea.
Results: 155 fatal and non-fatal events occurred. We observed a significantly lower risk for subjects napping 1–2 times weekly for developing a CVD event (HR 0.52, 95% CI 0.28 to 0.95) compared with nonnapping subjects, in unadjusted as well as adjusted models. The increased HR (1.67, 95% CI 1.10 to 2.55) for subjects napping 6–7 times weekly disappeared in adjusted models (HR 0.89, 95% CI 0.58 to 1.38). Neither obstructive sleep apnoea nor excessive daytime sleepiness modified this lower risk. No association was found between nap duration and CVD events.
Conclusion: Subjects who nap once or twice per week have a lower risk of incident CVD events, while no association was found for more frequent napping or napping duration. Nap frequency may help explain the discrepant findings regarding the association between napping and CVD events.
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