It’s estimated that nearly one-third of adults in the United States take regular daytime naps. If you’re someone who enjoys frequent napping, you may be surprised to learn that these daytime slumbers may not be as beneficial as you may think.
“These results are especially interesting since millions of people might enjoy a regular, or even daily nap,” says E Wang, Ph.D., M.D., a professor and chair of the Department of Anesthesiology at Xiangya Hospital Central South University, and the study’s corresponding author.
According to new evidence compiled by researchers in China, excessive daytime napping may be a sign of higher risk for hypertension and stroke. The Chinese researchers used data from the UK Biobank, an extensive biomedical database and research resource, as the basis for their study.
About Frequent Napping and Hypertension
The study consisted of research participants who ranged in age from 40 to 69, and who all lived in the United Kingdom between 2006 and 2010. Each participant provided blood, urine, and saliva samples regularly.
Once the study group was compiled, researchers first ruled out people who had previously been diagnosed with high blood pressure or who had experienced a stroke before the start of the study. Once this had been done, the scientists were left with data from over 36,000 individuals. The average follow-up time was approximately 11 years after the study had begun.
The team divided the participants into three groups based on their reported napping tendencies: never or rarely, sometimes, and frequent.
The findings were as follows:
- Most people who reported frequent napping were men and had lower levels of education and income. Frequent nappers also reported higher levels of smoking cigarettes, consuming alcohol, snoring, insomnia, and were more likely to describe themselves as a “night person.”
- When compared with people in the never or rarely napping category, those who reported napping frequently had a 12 percent higher likelihood of developing high blood pressure and a 24 percent higher chance of stroke.
- Study participants who were under 60 and reported napping frequently had a 20 percent higher risk of developing hypertension than those who never or rarely took naps.
“It is important to note that a majority of the ‘usual-nappers’ reported other conditions or lifestyle factors that could contribute to high blood pressure,” says Dr. Samuel Werner DO, a family medicine specialist and an adjunct assistant professor at the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in New Jersey. “We have known for decades that smoking contributes to cardiovascular issues and people with untreated sleep apnea do not get quality sleep because they wake, often without knowing it, throughout the night.”
“Previous studies have found that higher BMIs, which can in part, be caused by drinking, can increase the risk for high blood pressure and stroke,” Werner continued.
About three-fourths of the people involved in the study remained in their napping categories throughout the study’s duration. However, Werner and his colleagues noted that those whose napping frequency increased by one category (going from never or rarely to sometimes, for example) had an increased risk of high blood pressure of nearly 40 percent.
What Frequent Napping Indicates About Your Health
Werner believes that it isn’t necessarily the napping that leads to higher blood pressure or stroke, but rather the fact that many people who nap do so because they have poorer sleep quality at night.
Contrary to popular belief, naps don’t make up for lost sleep at night. Researchers say that it is this poor sleep quality that is associated with poorer health outcomes.
“Ideally, people should get seven hours of uninterrupted sleep at night. This amount provides the most benefit to cardiovascular health,” said Dr. Andrew M Freeman, FACC, FACP, a cardiologist at National Jewish Health in Denver, in a recent interview regarding the study. “High blood pressure is widespread. Your chance of death doubles for every 20 points over the 120 mark when measuring blood pressure.”
Werner and his team noted that there were several limitations to their study, which include:
- Researchers only collected daytime napping frequency, not duration.
- Nap frequency was self-reported without any objective measurements, making estimates nonquantifiable.
- The study’s participants were mostly middle-aged and elderly with European ancestry, so the results may not be generalizable.
- Researchers have not yet discovered the biological mechanism for the effect of daytime napping on blood pressure regulation or stroke.
The authors recommend further examination of the associations between a healthy sleep pattern, including daytime napping, and heart health.
Can You Lower Your Hypertension Risk?
With this new notion that your daily afternoon nap may be contributing to a higher risk of stroke or hypertension, you may be wondering what you can do to lower it. While cutting out your nap may seem like a logical first step, it’s important to note that the study’s researchers believe that it’s poor night sleep that is the real culprit.
So, if you’re someone who has difficulty sleeping at night, try implementing the following practices into your daily routine:
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet that is low in fats and or plant-based.
- Get regular exercise every day, somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes.
- Find ways to lower your stress levels, such as meditation, mindfulness, or other relaxation techniques.
- Try building your support system through things like support groups or community outreach programs.
“But even more important,” said Werner, “is contacting your doctor. People who have daytime sleepiness, have the need to nap or wake up feeling tired, should reach out to their doctor.”
“Fatigue is a warning sign that shouldn’t be ignored,” he added. “It is the first sign for a multitude of serious medical conditions, such as cancer, kidney disease, depression, and multiple sclerosis. You and your doctor should work together to determine the underlying reason for daytime sleepiness so that condition can be treated.”
Are You a Frequent Napper?
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