Take a Nap, Protect Your Heart?
Large Greek Study Suggests Midday Siestas Cut Heart Deaths
WebMD News Archive
Feb. 12, 2007 -- Eat right, get plenty of exercise, don’t smoke and -- take
a daily nap?
Naps aren’t generally included in the litany of good-for-your-heart
lifestyle choices recommended for lowering cardiovascular risk, but they may
New research suggests a midday siesta may reduce a person’s risk of death
from heart disease, possibly by lowering stress levels.
The findings must be confirmed, but Dimitrios Trichopoulos, MD, a study
author, tells WebMD there is little downside to taking naps -- and there could
be big health benefits.
“The siesta is a victim of progress. Most of us aren’t in the position to
take a daily nap,” he says. “But our research suggests that the practice could
help protect the heart, and we need further studies to find out if this really
is the case.”
Part of the Culture
Trichopoulos says the research stemmed from the observation that heart
disease death rates are lower in Mediterranean and Latin American countries
where midday siestas are part of the culture.
His own earlier research in a Greek population provided weak evidence in
favor of the nap hypothesis, but another, larger study, conducted in Costa Rica
failed to show an association.
The newly published Greek study by Trichopoulos and colleagues from the
Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, and Greece’s University of Athens
Medical School is the largest ever to examine the issue in a previously healthy
A total of 23,681 residents of Greece with no history of heart disease,
stroke, or cancer at enrollment were followed an average of 6.3 years.
After trying to control for other heart disease risk factors, such as diet
and physical activity levels, the researchers concluded that people who took
naps at least three times a week for an average of at least 30 minutes were 37%
less likely to die of heart disease than people who did not take regular
Less frequent nappers had a 12% reduction in heart disease mortality, which
was not considered statistically significant.
The perceived protective effect was stronger among working men than among
men who were retired, suggesting, say the authors, that the stress-lowering
effects of napping may explain the finding.
“The existence of a stronger inverse association among working men is
compatible with the fact that occupational stress is common in many manual and
nonmanual professions,” the researchers wrote.
There were too few deaths among working women enrolled in the study to
conduct a similar analysis.
The study is published in the Feb. 12 issue of The Archives of Internal
The Mediterranean Influence
Even if a daily siesta does turn out to lower heart risk, it is only one of
many explanations for why fewer Greeks than Americans die from heart attacks
and strokes, Trichopoulos says.
His own research helped establish the cardio-protective benefits of the
traditional Mediterranean diet -- rich in fruits, vegetables, beans, and
grains; low in red meat.
Researchers attempted to control for the effects of diet, exercise, and
other cardiovascular influences in the new study. But Trichopoulos acknowledges
it is difficult to tease out all the features of the traditional Mediterranean
lifestyle that play a role in protecting the heart.
Florida cardiologist Gerald Fletcher, MD, of the Mayo Clinic Jacksonville,
tells WebMD the findings suggest there is more to learn about the impact of
lifestyle on the heart.
“It makes sense that lowering stress levels with a daily siesta or even a
semi-siesta could benefit the heart,” he says. “We are increasingly recognizing
the importance of sleep in cardiology.”
Fletcher says even people who can’t take midday naps can probably derive
some benefit from sitting or lying quietly for five or 10 minutes sometime
during the day.
“Even going out and sitting in the sunshine for a few minutes might be
beneficial,” he says.