How to Nap for Lower Heart Attack and Stroke Risk?

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A new study suggests a sweet spot for daytime snoozes.

The impact that lifestyle has on human health is profound. And not only as it pertains to the unhealthy habits we could be avoiding, but also the healthy ones we could be pursuing.

While things like smoking, diet, and exercise come to mind first and foremost in this arena, sleep is sneaking up to be an important variable as well. A growing body of evidence is finding that, basically, not getting enough sleep does awful things to the mind and body; one recent study found that getting six to nine hours of sleep a night has a big impact on heart attack risk.

How does napping play into this scenario? According to the authors of a new study, the impact of napping on heart health, at least, has been hotly contested. "Many of the published studies on the topic have failed to consider napping frequency, or focused purely on cardiovascular disease deaths, or compared regular nappers with those not opting for a mini siesta," say the researchers.

With this in mind, the scientists from the University Hospital of Lausanne in Switzerland decided to investigate the link between nap duration/frequency and the risk of cardiovascular disease events like heart attack, stroke, or heart failure.

The study, published in the BMJ journal Heart, included 3462 residents from Lausanne, all between the ages of 35 and 75 – the participants belong to the CoLaus study, a cohort study looking at cardiovascular disease.

After taking into account influential factors like age, nighttime sleep duration, and other cardiovascular disease risks, the results were pretty surprising. BMJ writes:

Occasional napping, once to twice weekly, was associated with an almost halving in attack/stroke/heart failure risk (48%) compared with those who didn’t nap at all.

They did not find a link with nap duration and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease events; nor for napping more frequently.

Since this is an observational study, cause can not be confirmed; but at the very least it's an exciting avenue to be studying. As the study authors conclude, “The study of napping is a challenging but also a promising field with potentially significant public health implications."

"While there remain more questions than answers," they add, "it is time to start unveiling the power of naps for a supercharged heart.”