Daytime napping might increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, according to a new study of older adults from the American Heart Association (AHA). The research, published in late July, looked at 12,268 Swedish twin individuals to investigate links between sleep patterns and heart disease.
Participants who slept fewer than seven hours a night and napped more than 30 minutes during the day were at the highest risk of cardiovascular diseases, with a 47% increase compared to individuals who slept well and didn’t nap.
The study’s lead author, Weili Xu, a senior researcher at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, told the AHA that people should ideally sleep between seven to nine hours and “avoid frequent or excessive napping.”
"Good sleep behavior is essential to preserve cardiovascular health in middle-aged and older adults," Xu said.
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While the study’s findings point to a potential link between daytime napping and heart problems, the research isn’t conclusive. In the study, Xu and her colleagues write that napping’s long-term effects on cardiovascular health remain unclear, and that a previous Swiss study found that napping once or twice a week was “protective” against heart problems. Marie-Pierre St-Onge, a sleep expert at Columbia University unaffiliated with the research, also told the AHA that Xu’s study was notably limited to older adults.
Beyond the potential downsides of napping, the Journal of the American Heart Association study found that participants who slept between seven to nine hours a night were the least likely to develop heart problems. Individuals who slept less than that were 14% more likely to suffer from cardiovascular issues, whereas participants who slept longer saw a 10% increase. Poor sleep patterns — such as snoring, insomnia, and considering oneself a night person — were also associated with a higher risk of heart disease.
The upshot: If you sleep between seven to nine hours a night and have good sleep patterns, there’s little cause for concern.
A July 2022 study in the AHA’s Hypertension journal found a similar connection between frequent naps and health issues, with frequent daytime nappers seeing a 12% higher risk of elevated blood pressure and a 24% higher risk of stroke.
But the naps themselves might not be the problem, according to Michael A. Grandner, a clinical psychologist and AHA sleep expert.
"This may be because, although taking a nap itself is not harmful, many people who take naps may do so because of poor sleep at night. Poor sleep at night is associated with poorer health, and naps are not enough to make up for that,” Grandner said in a statement.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults between 61-64 should sleep between seven to nine hours a night, while seniors 65 and up need seven to eight hours.