Wouldn’t it be great if we could lose weight while we slept? In fact, multiple studies show that having a siesta is at least as beneficial for you as dieting for keeping up on your overall health. There’s evidence that if you don’t sleep enough, you can gain weight and have metabolic changes that could eventually lead to diabetes, among other things. It seems napping may do more than just reboot our energy level and improve our mood, it can also help you live longer! (1)
Harvard Nap Study
A study conducted in 2007 followed more than 23,000 men and women over the course of six years. It suggests that there may be more than just the olive oil and red wine in Mediterranean countries that help keep residents fit. ‘If confirmed by other investigations, these results would imply that a siesta could be added to the several means available for the control of coronary heart mortality, like healthy diets or cholesterol-lowering medications,’ said Dimitrios Trichopoulos, the Vincent L. Gregory Professor of Cancer Prevention and the study’s senior author. ‘The magnitude of the effect appears to be considerable.’ The study’s findings show that regular afternoon siestas of 30 minutes or more at least three times a week can help cut deaths from heart disease by up to 37%, which is around as much as other preventative remedies such as lowering cholesterol and exercising.
No Built-in Nap Time Yet
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the findings are strong enough to encourage drastic changes to the work week in the United States just yet. ‘I would not really advise major changes to work habits here without confirmation,’ Trichopoulos said in 2007. ‘We know there’s no harm at all to a siesta and it’s actually enjoyable, so if you can, do it.’ He went on to add ‘I am fully aware that the lifestyle in the U.S. does not leave much room for changes of this type.’ (2, 3)
A recent study found that, at rest, people burn 10 percent more calories in the late afternoon and early evening than in the early morning. ‘The fact that doing the same thing at one time of day burned so many more calories than doing the same thing at a different time of day surprised us,’ says Kirsi-Marja Zitting of the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, lead author of the paper. Because they focused just on calories burned while at rest, researchers aren’t sure if people would benefit from planning their exercise in the late afternoon and early evening. But it does look like planning your nap for the afternoon is the best course of action if you’re going to have one. (4, 5)
American College of Cardiology’s Nap Study
An even more recent study found that people indulging in a midday nap were more likely to have a statistically significant drop in blood pressure when compared with those who did not nap. ‘Midday sleep appears to lower blood pressure levels at the same magnitude as other lifestyle changes. For example, salt and alcohol reduction can bring blood pressure levels down by 3 to 5 mm Hg,’ said Manolis Kallistratos, a cardiologist at the Asklepieion General Hospital in Voula, Greece, and one of the study’s co-authors. ‘Mm Hg’ stands for ‘millimeters of mercury’ and is the general unit of measurement of pressure.
Taking a nap during the day was associated with an average 5 mm Hg drop in blood pressure. ‘These findings are important because a drop in blood pressure as small as 2 mm Hg can reduce the risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attack by up to 10 percent,’ Kallistratos said. ‘Based on our findings, if someone has the luxury to take a nap during the day, it may also have benefits for high blood pressure. Napping can be easily adopted and typically doesn’t cost anything.’ Compared to the high price of prescription drugs nowadays, knowing that there’s something free that could be just as effective is absolutely brilliant.
All Day Naps
This doesn’t give us carte blanche to spend our entire days in bed though, Kallistratos is quick to add. ‘We obviously don’t want to encourage people to sleep for hours on end during the day, but on the other hand, they shouldn’t feel guilty if they can take a short nap, given the potential health benefits,’ Kallistratos said. ‘Even though both groups were receiving the same number of medications and blood pressure was well controlled, there was still a significant decrease in blood pressure among those who slept during midday.’ (6)
Now we know that there are multiple health benefits of taking advantage of a daytime snooze, there’s never been a better time to make sure you schedule them in whenever possible. Obviously, your boss isn’t going to happy if you skive off work to have a sleep, but if you’re able to have them, take advantage! Next time the kids are asleep and you’re wondering what you should be doing, have a quick nap for your own self-care.