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Dr. Zorba Paster: Swiss research shows napping is good for your heart

New research published in the British Medical Journal shows that napping just might reduce heart attacks and strokes. (
New research published in the British Medical Journal shows that napping just might reduce heart attacks and strokes. (
By Dr. Zorba Paster For The Spokesman-Review

I love napping. Now here’s the quandary. When I decide to take my midafternoon nap, I feel slothful. Yet after I take the nap, I feel energized. One part of me says I shouldn’t be doing this. I should be out and about doing something “useful” – reading, cooking, exercising, walking the dog or writing this column.

Not laying down taking a few zzz’s. From where does this guilt arise? It’s our puritanical heritage. We think something that feels good must be bad. We think we should be productive all the time, 24/7. Go. Go. Go. And our electronic addiction hasn’t done anything to dissuade us from this absolutely silly, goofy and truly asinine concept.

We take our office with us on the computer or our phones. We take phone calls all the time in the middle of soccer games – when we’re supposed to be watching our kids and showing them that we care. We take it during family meals, which are supposed to be family time. We have to take this call.

Where did that come from? Our 24/7 work ethic. Shutting off the lights for 20 minutes or so is considered to be, well, just for the old. For the sick. For the infirm. If you do that, there must be something wrong with you. Get up and move!

We brag about how much time we spend at the gym, work and more, but we never brag about napping. In fact, when I ask people in the office whether they nap, if the answer is yes, it’s a sheepish yes. It’s not the robust affirmation I get from them when I ask how many steps they take daily.

Well, folks, listen up. New research published in the British Medical Journal shows that napping just might reduce heart attacks and strokes. And that means it just might be something you want to add to your jogging-yoga-treadmill-biking-swimming routine.

First, step back a moment. The impact of napping on heart health has been hotly contested for years. The studies have been, at best, controversial. So researchers in Lausanne, Switzerland, tried to put the topic to rest.

They looked at the association between napping frequency and average nap duration and the risk of fatal and nonfatal cardiovascular disease “events” such as heart attacks, strokes or heart failure. The data showed that a daytime nap taken once or twice a week was associated with fewer strokes and heart attacks.

The study included 3,462 randomly selected residents of Lausanne. From 2003 to 2006, researchers recruited men and women between the ages of 35 and 75 looking at their health habits – smoking, drinking, eating right or wrong, exercise – to see what might encourage or discourage cardiovascular disease.

Then they took a deep dive into sleep habits and nap habits. About 60% of those in the study said they didn’t nap or napped hardly at all, 20% said they took one or two naps a week, 10% said they took three to five naps, and 5% said they took five to seven naps a week.

That’s what I would call the regular nappers. The participants’ first checkup took place between 2009 and 2012 when information on their sleep and nap patterns in the previous week was collected. Their health was then subsequently monitored for the next five years.

Now here’s the skinny. One to two naps a week was associated with a whopping 48% reduction in heart attacks and strokes compared to those who didn’t nap at all. And that was after controlling for age, smoking, high blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.

Wow. And here was a curious thing about this phenomenon: It didn’t seem to matter how long the nap was. A five- to 10-minute power nap seemed to be just as effective as an hourlong snooze.

My spin: Well, for me it means a nap must have some beneficial component to it. I suspect the same is true of meditation and mindfulness practices. There is a time and place to shut off the phone, pull the plug, close the eyes and just be – it’s “recharge time” for yourself. Stay well.

Dr. Zorba Paster is a family physician and host of the public radio program “Zorba Paster on Your Health.” He can be reached at

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