Sorry, more is not better.
- People who nap one to two times a week have half the chances of having a heart attack or stroke or developing heart failure than those who never nap, a new study published in the journal Heart found.
- There was no such protective link found in people who nap three to seven times per week.
- Napping may help you reach the weekly sleep number you need, which can help you function at your best.
It’s become standard advice to get between seven and nine hours of sleep per night, especially as a way to support heart health, but where do naps fit in?
As it turns out, there’s disagreement in the sleep research world over the duration and frequency of naps, with some thinking the mini-snoozes are helpful and others believe they may be harmful.
Now here’s more fodder for debate: A new study published in the journal Heart suggests a daytime nap taken once or twice per week may lower the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
But here’s a quirk: Napping more often, or for a longer amount of time, didn’t have the same association.
The study looked at just about 3,500 Swiss people between the ages of 35 and 75 who were participating in research focusing on the factors related to cardiovascular disease. Data on their sleep and nap patterns was tracked for an average of five years.
Occasional napping—once or twice a week—was linked to having almost half the risk of heart attack, heart failure and stroke as those who didn’t nap at all.
But that didn’t hold true for those who regularly took more naps during the week.
It’s possible that the “more is not better” result for napping is because those who napped the most—three to seven times per week—tended to have more health issues in general. In that group, participants tended to be older male smokers who weighed more than less-frequent nappers, and also had higher levels of obstructive sleep apnea.
Previous research has also indicated that older adults who nap or doze for long periods of time may have underlying health problems, according to the co-author of a Heart editorial on the study, Yue Leng, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Francisco.
“In general, napping is much more complicated than we tend to think, and even in the research world, there is much more to learn about napping,” she told Runner’s World.“But this research is helpful, because it contributes to the ongoing debate on the health implications of napping.
Here’s one more wrinkle: That much-repeated advice about how much sleep to get per night isn’t so standard after all, according to W. Chris Winter, M.D., of the Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine, and author of The Sleep Solution.
That’s up for debate, too, with some researchers suggesting what matters is how much sleep you get per week—about 50 to 56 hours on average for most people, Winter told Runner’s World. That may be helpful as a guide if you tend to stay up late a few nights a week and need to “make up” that time by sleeping longer other nights or taking a few naps.
“That may be why just one or two naps a week is useful,” Winter said. “It helps you reach that weekly sleep number. But if you need to sleep every day for hours, it usually means you may be in some type of sleep deprivation situation.”
There are ways to make naps more effective, especially if take only a couple per week, he added: Nap in the late morning or early afternoon rather than closer to bedtime to prevent evening sleep disruption; nap at about the same time so your brain anticipates the sleep and relaxes in advance; and most of all, take a nap when you think you need one.
“Having a difficult night of sleep is part of the human existence,” said Winter. “Maybe you had a crappy night last night. Don’t think you’re doomed to heart trouble because of it. Just take a nap over your lunch hour and move on.”