Napping! Stress Reduction Redux: Reduce Your Risk of a Heart Attack 30%

February 27, 2007

Napping!  Stress Reduction Redux:  Reduce Your Risk of a Heart Attack 30%

Competency # 20 Culture – Lifestyles of the Long-Lived                      ReferenceArchives of Internal Medicine, Feb 11, 2007 

 Winston Churchill once said, “Take off all your clothes, slip between the sheets and take a proper nap.  You get two days out of one.”  He was so right.  Here’s the proof. I personally love to nap and feel like I never get the chance!  I have successfully managed to fall asleep in every class I have ever attended ever since Miss Brennamen made me stand in the corner in 3rd grade for falling asleep.   

Having felt guilty about it most of my life, I am perfectly delighted to find evidence that napping is really, really good for you. This Lenten/Passover Season, I’m doing articles on stress reduction and our inner journey to mental health.  Napping just popped into the news and I couldn’t resist.  This article made the news all over the world.  So I looked it up. 

The authors followed over 28,500 men for over 6 years.  Complete data on napping, physical activity, lifestyle variables, diet, and other risk factors were all controlled for.  Previously ill persons were excluded, as their napping may be related to illness.  And Body Mass Index was controlled for.  Napping has been epidemiologically connected to the Mediterranean region, as well as to Latin America where it is culturally encouraged.  But no study has taken the rigors of modern statistical analysis to look at detailed co-variables.  It’s easy to say that those who nap follow other good lifestyle habits.  This research took on that challenge.  

Other studies have been smaller and have not taken working, midlife adults with no active illnesses as their baseline.  This one is 10 times the size as its competitors, so it has some authority. The data is straightforward.  For those who nap three times a week, (at least 30 minutes) an additional 30% reduction in coronary artery disease accrues.  They had 133 deaths from coronary artery disease, which made enough events to apply statistical analysis to the men.   They didn’t have enough women to do the same.  

Their conclusions: the stress reduction incurred by napping has to be hypothesized to be the variable, in other words, the reason it works.  We know stress, as hard as it is to measure, is correlated with coronary artery disease.  This is one way of reversing it.  It’s intuitively correct.  Now, we can put a number to it.  When 50% of men and women die of heart disease, a 30% reduction in mortality is possible 15 people per hundred living longer.  This is bigger than the positive effect any screening studies for cancers. 

 WWW.  What Will Work for Me?  It makes sense to me.  If I can get a nap, I’m extra good for an additional 8 hours.  I feel I have a burst of creativity and energy that more than makes up for the time it takes me to nap.  The only problem I have is finding a place that’s quiet and leaves me alone.  What I have found is a remarkable response from multiple people who respond to my suggestion to take hidden chances to nap.  The example I give is the 20 minutes you get on a plane after you’ve sat down and before you leave the gate, take off and then play on your computer.  You are captive, bored, unable to access any media, and sitting quietly.   I’ve suggested they take that time to nap, and to a person, they’ve said it’s their favorite thing to do on a trip.  Do we need to find more hidden places to practice our napping?  Try it out.  It’s evidence-based!  And someday, I’m going to ask Miss Brennamen if I really upset her or not!  And if this column goes any longer, I’ll catch you napping.  (In our home, we now call a good nap, a "Full Winston." Meaning we took off some clothes and crawled between the sheets.  Thank your Winston!)

The column is written by Dr. John E Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI. (262-784-5300)