We have all heard about the “long winter’s nap” in W. Clement Moore’s early 19th century poem about St. Nicholas. The night before Christmas, in a silent house, the narrator (and his mice) have just settled in for a long winter’s nap when there arises such a clatter…
Well, you know the rest. (However, you might want to share it with children and grandchildren before the government outlaws it—if not the entire holiday.)
Of course, old Clement intended his narrator to get his long winter’s nap at night. And in fact, Clement’s contemporary, the early 19th century British poet, illustrator, and philosopher, William Blake, said “it is better to think in the morning, act at noon, eat in the evening, and sleep at night.” (Although Blake’s nighttime sleep may have sometimes been compromised by his “tiger, tiger burning bright/in the forests of the night.”) But there is still a lot to be said for some midday sleep as well, according to a new study.
Greek researchers found that midday naps can help lower blood pressure—and reduce prescriptions for anti-hypertensive drugs.1
Greece may be one of the few places where scientists are still able to observe the effects of an afternoon nap. Until the later 20th century, there was a strong tradition throughout Mediterranean countries of taking a long break midday. Workers and schoolchildren would go home for a hearty lunch followed by a nap or rest. Then they’d go back to work or school until 7 p.m., return home, and eat a light evening meal. And, of course, there is also the siesta in Latin American and tropical countries.
But this tradition may be well worth reviving, if this new study is any indication of its potential.
“Power nap” your way to better blood pressure
The Greek researchers gathered 200 men and 186 women with an average age of 62 years. All of them had high blood pressure.
The researchers discovered that the study participants who slept midday had 5 percent lower average blood pressure than the non-nappers. And this effect persisted after taking into account hypertension risk factors like weight, smoking, alcohol consumption, and fitness levels.
The midday nappers also had lower readings in other key measurements, suggesting they may have less damage from high blood pressure in their arteries and heart.
You may be thinking that a 5 percent reduction in blood pressure isn’t much. But the researchers pointed out that simply dropping your systolic blood pressure (the upper number in a blood pressure reading) by 2 mmHg (out of a total of 130 mm Hg or more) can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by as much as 10 percent.
And a 5 percent dip in blood pressure is comparable to the drop associated with stress-reduction lifestyle therapies such as biofeedback, guided imagery, meditation, relaxation therapy, and yoga.
(For all of the details on which stress-reduction techniques will work best for you, see my Emotional Type questionnaire at drmicozzi.com, or read my book Your Emotional Type: Key to the Therapies That Will Work for You. You can order a copy on my website or by calling 1-800-682-7319 and asking for code GOV2RCAA.)
So how much should you nap each day? The longer the better, according to the study. But when you’re strapped for time, the blood pressure effects were seen in as little as an hour.
Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to be caught midday giving a “nod” to “winken and blinken.” It might raise the blood pressure of your co-workers, but it will surely lower your own—and your risk of cardiovascular disease.
1“Association of mid-day naps occurrence and duration with bp levels in hypertensive patients, a prospective observational study.” Eur Heart J (2015) 36 (suppl 1).