Napping: Is It Really Linked To Fewer Heart Problems?


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Why run on a treadmill, when you can sleep on it? Why eat kale, when you can face-plant and snooze in a bowl of it? After all, didn’t a study just published in the journalHeartsay that napping can prevent cardiovascular disease?

Not exactly. If you had insisted that population cohort studies like this one could somehow prove cause-and-effect, you’d be lying. Not lying as in lying down for a nap but lying as in misrepresenting what such a population cohort study can actually do.

Population cohort studies such as this latest study conducted byNadine Häusler, Jose Haba-RubioRaphael Heinzer, and Pedro Marques-Vidal from the University Hospital of Lausanne can only show associations and not prove cause-and-effect. Such studies involve following what happens to a group of people over a period of time and then trying to determine if there is a statistical correlation between particular factors or behaviors and the people’s health outcomes over time. 

In this study, the group of people followed (for up to 7.8 years and for a median of 5.3 years) was 3,462 folks from Switzerland who didn’t have any previous history of cardiovascular disease. The researchers then tried to determine whether the participants’ napping habits were associated in any way with their likelihood of developing cardiovascular problems (e.g., heart attack or death from heart disease) during the follow-up period.  

Alas, the ways the researchers assessed the participants’ napping habits were, as the Pink song goes, less than perfect. Participants completed questionnaires that asked them how often they had napped over the previous week and how long they had been asleep during the naps. This can be a rather imprecise measure as people aren’t always great at remembering how often they napped in the past. Heck sometimes I can’t even remember if Ijustnapped. Nevertheless, based on their answers, participants fell into one of four categories:non-nappers (otherwise known as robots), taking one-to-two naps a week, taking three-to-five naps a week, and taking six-to-seven naps a week.

People aren’t so great at remembering how long they napped either, unless they happen to face-plant on their smartphone timers. The researchers divided participants into those whose naps were less than an hour each and those who had naps lasting one hour or more. The hour mark is a bit arbitrary and raises another question: how did study participants define naps? While most may agree that a 10-hour nap is not really a nap, people may differ in how they classify a three-hour snooze. On the opposite end of the spectrum, how long do you have to close your eyes before it becomes a nap. Is a two-minute drift away a nap? Does drool need to be involved?

With all these limitations, take this study’s results with not just a grain but a pillow-full of salt. Here’s the main finding: compared to non-nappers, those napping one-to-two times a week were 48% less likely to have had a cardiovascular problem during the follow-up period. However, more was not better. Those who napped six-to-seven times a week were not significantly more or less likely to have developed cardiovascular problems than non-nappers.

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What can explain these findings? Is napping like bedazzling? Can a little be helpful in some situations but more be too much or symbolize a larger problem? Untangling these associations can be like trying to untangle your smartphone ear bud cord: complicated. An occasional nap here and there can help relieve stress and catch up on sleep, which could then help reduce cardiovascular risk. However, at the same time, those who can afford to nap a few times a week may have more flexible, organized, or secure life situations, which in turn may help prevent cardiovascular disease. Plus, napping may be associated with other healthy behaviors such as napping after a twice-a-week intense workout, yoga class, or kale salad.

By contrast, if you nap nearly every day, that may be a sign that you are having an ongoing problem. Maybe you are unemployed, are lonely, are depressed, or have a chronic condition that’s making you particularly tired like sleep apnea. Maybe your job is too exhausting or mind-numbingly dull. All of these can be unhealthy situations that can then lead to cardiovascular problems.

So should you sleep on these study results? And if so, how often and how long? Well, this is not the first study to suggest that napping in moderation can be associated with better health outcomes. Napping can be helpful for those who are sleep-deprived, which, as I have written previously forForbes, is becoming increasingly common in our society. After all, in some cultures and countries, a mid-day nap such as a siesta, is more the norm. You’ve probably at some point experienced the post-lunchtime stupor that makes you wonder how productive you really are during that time. Therefore, if you have the opportunity to nap, giving in to the temptation to snooze may not be such as bad idea, assuming that it doesn’t disrupt your normal sleep.

This brings up another key point: napping, like every non-sushi thing in life, has its pros and cons. This video from Mayo Clinic covers some of these:

Thus, your optimal napping habits should be personalized and depend on how you feel and your life situation. This may vary from year-to-year, month-to-month, or even day-to-day.

Therefore, don’t expect doctors anytime soon to be writing instructions that say, “nap regularly, not to exceed two times a week.” If you do nap one-to-two times a week, don’t think that this habit alone will help prevent heart disease. If you nap six-t0-seven times a week, check in with your doctor to make sure that you don’t have another issue that is leading to your very frequent napping. If you are a non-napper and can stay awake at all hours every day, don’t panic. No need to force yourself to nap if you don’t feel the urge. Just accept the fact that you are weird and probably a robot.

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When your boss catches you napping on the job, should you just tell him or her that you are trying to prevent heart disease? (Photo: Getty Images)

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Why run on a treadmill, when you can sleep on it? Why eat kale, when you can face-plant and snooze in a bowl of it? After all, didn’t a study just published in the journalHeartsay that napping can prevent cardiovascular disease?

Not exactly. If you had insisted that population cohort studies like this one could somehow prove cause-and-effect, you’d be lying. Not lying as in lying down for a nap but lying as in misrepresenting what such a population cohort study can actually do.

Population cohort studies such as this latest study conducted byNadine Häusler, Jose Haba-RubioRaphael Heinzer, and Pedro Marques-Vidal from the University Hospital of Lausanne can only show associations and not prove cause-and-effect. Such studies involve following what happens to a group of people over a period of time and then trying to determine if there is a statistical correlation between particular factors or behaviors and the people’s health outcomes over time. 

In this study, the group of people followed (for up to 7.8 years and for a median of 5.3 years) was 3,462 folks from Switzerland who didn’t have any previous history of cardiovascular disease. The researchers then tried to determine whether the participants’ napping habits were associated in any way with their likelihood of developing cardiovascular problems (e.g., heart attack or death from heart disease) during the follow-up period.  

Alas, the ways the researchers assessed the participants’ napping habits were, as the Pink song goes, less than perfect. Participants completed questionnaires that asked them how often they had napped over the previous week and how long they had been asleep during the naps. This can be a rather imprecise measure as people aren’t always great at remembering how often they napped in the past. Heck sometimes I can’t even remember if Ijustnapped. Nevertheless, based on their answers, participants fell into one of four categories:non-nappers (otherwise known as robots), taking one-to-two naps a week, taking three-to-five naps a week, and taking six-to-seven naps a week.

People aren’t so great at remembering how long they napped either, unless they happen to face-plant on their smartphone timers. The researchers divided participants into those whose naps were less than an hour each and those who had naps lasting one hour or more. The hour mark is a bit arbitrary and raises another question: how did study participants define naps? While most may agree that a 10-hour nap is not really a nap, people may differ in how they classify a three-hour snooze. On the opposite end of the spectrum, how long do you have to close your eyes before it becomes a nap. Is a two-minute drift away a nap? Does drool need to be involved?

With all these limitations, take this study’s results with not just a grain but a pillow-full of salt. Here’s the main finding: compared to non-nappers, those napping one-to-two times a week were 48% less likely to have had a cardiovascular problem during the follow-up period. However, more was not better. Those who napped six-to-seven times a week were not significantly more or less likely to have developed cardiovascular problems than non-nappers.

Napping frequency could be a sign of your life situation. (Photo: Getty Images)

Getty

What can explain these findings? Is napping like bedazzling? Can a little be helpful in some situations but more be too much or symbolize a larger problem? Untangling these associations can be like trying to untangle your smartphone ear bud cord: complicated. An occasional nap here and there can help relieve stress and catch up on sleep, which could then help reduce cardiovascular risk. However, at the same time, those who can afford to nap a few times a week may have more flexible, organized, or secure life situations, which in turn may help prevent cardiovascular disease. Plus, napping may be associated with other healthy behaviors such as napping after a twice-a-week intense workout, yoga class, or kale salad.

By contrast, if you nap nearly every day, that may be a sign that you are having an ongoing problem. Maybe you are unemployed, are lonely, are depressed, or have a chronic condition that’s making you particularly tired like sleep apnea. Maybe your job is too exhausting or mind-numbingly dull. All of these can be unhealthy situations that can then lead to cardiovascular problems.

So should you sleep on these study results? And if so, how often and how long? Well, this is not the first study to suggest that napping in moderation can be associated with better health outcomes. Napping can be helpful for those who are sleep-deprived, which, as I have written previously forForbes, is becoming increasingly common in our society. After all, in some cultures and countries, a mid-day nap such as a siesta, is more the norm. You’ve probably at some point experienced the post-lunchtime stupor that makes you wonder how productive you really are during that time. Therefore, if you have the opportunity to nap, giving in to the temptation to snooze may not be such as bad idea, assuming that it doesn’t disrupt your normal sleep.

This brings up another key point: napping, like every non-sushi thing in life, has its pros and cons. This video from Mayo Clinic covers some of these:

Thus, your optimal napping habits should be personalized and depend on how you feel and your life situation. This may vary from year-to-year, month-to-month, or even day-to-day.

Therefore, don’t expect doctors anytime soon to be writing instructions that say, “nap regularly, not to exceed two times a week.” If you do nap one-to-two times a week, don’t think that this habit alone will help prevent heart disease. If you nap six-t0-seven times a week, check in with your doctor to make sure that you don’t have another issue that is leading to your very frequent napping. If you are a non-napper and can stay awake at all hours every day, don’t panic. No need to force yourself to nap if you don’t feel the urge. Just accept the fact that you are weird and probably a robot.

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