A nap sounds like a luxury, doesn’t it? You might take a short one on days when you didn’t sleep well the night but taking a daytime snooze might not be part of your daily agenda. However, about one-third of Americans confess to taking a nap on most days of the week. The practice is more common among men than women. Some nappers are doing it to compensate for poor sleep while others are napping because it makes them feel better.
Now, a new study suggests taking a nap may do more than compensate for a sleep deficit. This study suggests that taking a siesta may be beneficial for your heart. How so?
Can a Daytime Nap Lower Your Blood Pressure?
One of the biggest risk factors for cardiovascular disease is uncontrolled high blood pressure. More Americans than ever are being diagnosed with hypertension as the standard for what constitutes hypertension have become stricter. Now, the goal is for everyone to keep their blood pressure below 120/80 mm. Hg. This means more Americans than ever are hearing the news that their blood pressure is too high.
Why is high blood pressure harmful? When your blood pressure is consistently too high, your heart has to pump with greater force to get blood through arteries that are too tight. Some people with essential hypertension, the most common kind, have an imbalance in a hormone called renin. This imbalance causes the walls of the arteries to squeeze too tightly together. Over time, the extra effort the heart has to exert to pump through tight arteries takes a toll on your heart. High blood pressure is linked to damage to other organs and to the blood vessels that feed into these organs, including the kidneys and brain. So, controlling blood pressure is one of the most important steps you can take to avoid cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Monitor Your Blood Pressure at Home
It’s wise to keep tabs on this easy-to-measure number. You can conveniently monitor your blood pressure at home and know exactly where you stand. But, what if it’s too high? In some cases, lifestyle changes can lower it, especially if it’s only mildly elevated. In other cases, you may need medications.
We talk a lot about diet and the role it plays in health, but what about sleep? Getting enough sleep is vital for overall health and it may help with blood pressure control as well. Lack of quality sleep can elevate levels of a hormone called cortisol. A rise in cortisol boosts blood pressure and increases fat storage deep in the belly, another risk factor for high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. But now a new study shows that taking a nap may help with blood pressure control too.
How a Nap Helps with Blood Pressure Control
In a study discussed at the American College of Cardiology’s 68th Annual Scientific Session, researchers discussed the findings of a new study. The study included 212 men and women with an average age of 62. Some of the participants had health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, and their collective blood pressure was mildly elevated. Some were also smokers. Researchers wanted to know how lifestyle habits, particularly how much they napped during the day, impacted their blood pressure and how stiff their arteries were.
The participants underwent studies to evaluate how their heart and blood vessels functioned. They also wore a monitor that tracked their blood pressure throughout the day as they performed their daily activities. Researchers also questioned the participants about their lifestyle habits, including how much they napped during the day.
Interestingly, after controlling for factors that impact blood pressure, the monitoring showed that 24-hour systolic blood pressure was 5.3 mm Hg lower in those who took a mid-day nap and the nap didn’t need to be a long one. The average time the subjects napped was 49 minutes. In general, the nappers had healthier blood pressure readings relative to those who didn’t take daytime siestas. This was true regardless of age or gender.
As the researchers point out, the drop in blood pressure associated with napping was on par with what you would expect from taking a low-dose anti-hypertensive medication and, unlike medications, napping doesn’t have undesirable side effects. In fact, it can help you feel more energized and focused.
A Healthy Lifestyle Habit
It’s always gratifying to discover small lifestyle habits that might lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. Researchers point out that even a 2 mm Hg drop in systolic blood pressure can slash the risk of heart attack by 10%. Napping is linked with an even greater drop in blood pressure.
Of course, you shouldn’t use a nap as a substitute for quality sleep at night. Even if you take a daytime nap, you still need a minimum of 7 hours of sleep per night for optimal health. The best time to meet your body’s sleep needs is at night when your body is programmed to shut down.
Are there downsides to napping? One concern is that daytime napping could disrupt the body’s internal biological clock and make it harder to fall asleep at night. There’s no evidence of this, although it hasn’t really been studied. But there is evidence that people who work at night and get all of their sleep during the day have disrupted circadian sleep patterns and a higher incidence of health problems, including obesity and cancer. Don’t use naps as a substitute for good sleep, but a short nap during the day may be beneficial to your health and blood pressure. In fact, some studies show that people have better memory and recall after a nap. It could make you more productive too.
The Bottom Line
Taking a short nap most days is heart healthy, based on the latest research. But it won’t replace a heart-healthy diet and exercise. Still, making a nap part of your daily routine may have some perks. If you do, limit your naps to less than an hour. Napping longer can leave you with a sleep hangover that makes it harder to get back in the swing of things.
· Science Daily. “A nap a day keeps high blood pressure at bay”
· Live Science. “Nap Time! One-third of Americans Do It”
· HealthSleep.Med.Harvard.Edu. “The Drive to Sleep and Our Internal Clock”
· Medical News Today. “Night shifts raise women’s cancer risk”