Scientists have found evidence that napping reduces the risk for death due to heart disease, particularly in men who work.

Are you someone who enjoys a bit of a siesta in the afternoon? I certainly am – in fact I have a ‘siesta sofa’ in my office.

I find that even a 30-minute nap in the middle of the afternoon really rejuvenates me, and can improve my outlook tremendously.

Napping, or taking a siesta, is part of the culture in many countries in the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and Central and South America.

Now, a new study, done in Greece, has found medical benefits associated with napping. And this was no small study – researchers from the University of Athens Medical School followed 23,681 Greek men and women from 1994 to 1999.

The men and women who participated were between 20 and 86 years of age, and did not have a history of heart disease when they entered the study.

The researchers collected data on who took naps, when, and how long each nap was, as well as information on people’s levels of physical activity, and dietary habits during the year before they began the study.

The men and women were followed for an average of 6.32 years.

During the follow-up period 792 study participants died, including 133 people who developed heart disease.

The researchers accounted for other cardiovascular risk factors including age, whether or not a person smoked, body mass index or BMI, and the level of physical activity to name a few.

They found that the people “who took naps of any frequency and duration had a 34% lower risk of dying from heart disease than those who did not take midday naps.” That’s quite a substantial risk reduction.

But it gets better, especially for those of us who nap regularly. The University of Athens investigators also found a 37% reduced risk of ‘heart-related death’ among people who were ‘systematic nappers.’

They defined ‘systematic nappers’ as people who took a siesta at least three times a week for 30 minutes each time.

And, working men who took either occasional or regular naps had a 64% reduced risk of death due to heart disease, compared to working men who didn’t take naps. That’s an enormous reduction in risk.

Men who were not working but took naps had a 36% risk reduction, which is also very good.

Unfortunately, the researchers couldn’t do similar analyses for women because the mortality rate was too low to get any meaningful information: only six women who worked died on study.

So, what does all this mean? If you’re a healthy adult, taking a siesta could help to reduce stress levels such that it reduces your risk of dying from a heart-related event.

And, I am pleased to report, the investigators conclude that this is an important finding. I concur, because I can now look my friends and colleagues squarely in the face and say my afternoon naps are preventative therapy!

The study was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

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