In past issues, you've read a lot about how to get a good night's sleep. But what about taking a nap in the middle of the day? Is that good for your health? Researchers in a new study wanted to find out.
In particular, they wanted to know if napping could lower your blood pressure and reduce the need for prescription antihypertensive drugs. The study was led by Dr. Manolis Kallistratos, a cardiologist at Asklepieion Voula General Hospital in Athens, Greece. He and his team recruited 386 middle-aged patients with arterial hypertension for the study. Then they gave some of them a really tough assignment: take a nap during the day! The researchers recorded midday sleep time in minutes, office blood pressure, 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure, pulse wave velocity, lifestyle habits, and body mass index (BMI) for each participant.
The researchers made sure to adjust for a variety of factors that can affect blood pressure, including gender, BMI, whether or not the participant smoked, salt intake, alcohol and coffee consumption, and exercise habits. Once they took all of these factors into account, they found that on average, the participants who took naps had 24-hour ambulatory systolic blood pressure that was 5% (6 mmHg) lower than those who powered through the day. On average, their systolic blood pressure was 4% (5 mmHg) lower when they were awake and 6% (7 mmHg) lower when they were asleep, compared to those who didn't nap.
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Although these numbers may seem small, Dr. Kallistratos was quick to point out that "reductions as small as 2 mmHg in systolic blood pressure can reduce the risk of cardiovascular events by up to 10%."
And if you want a reason to really take a break, Dr. Kallistratos also noted that "not only is midday sleep associated with lower blood pressure, but longer sleeps are even more beneficial. Midday sleepers had greater dips in blood pressure while sleeping at night, which is associated with better health outcomes. We also found that hypertensive patients who slept at noon were under fewer antihypertensive medications compared to those who didn't sleep midday."
I'm all for natural solutions that can help eliminate the need for drugs and their various side effects. I know that taking a nap during the day isn't feasible for everyone. And it shouldn't be a substitute for getting enough sleep at night. But if you're able to fit one in, I recommend you give it a try, especially if you have high blood pressure. It may be just what you need to lower your blood pressure enough that you can come off the medications or avoid having to take them in the first place. Just one word of warning — if you are taking an antihypertensive, make sure you talk to your doctor before you discontinue it, even if you do plan to nap regularly.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD