Napping could help combat high blood pressure, which affects nearly half of American adults. A recent study, presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 68th Annual Scientific Session, found that people who nap for about an hour a day had similar drops in blood pressure seen with healthy lifestyle changes and some medications.
Conducted by researchers at Asklepieion General Hospital in Voula, Greece, this study is the first to assign participants to napping groups (one with a daytime nap and one without) and track participants’ blood pressure throughout the day.
We know that blood pressure drops while we’re sleeping at night, which is good for our health. However, the immediate effects of daytime napping on blood pressure are less understood.
In total, the study included 212 adults whose blood pressure was “moderately” controlled. They were assigned to two different groups—one that napped during the day and one that did not. Participants wore a blood pressure monitor for 24 hours during the study to monitor changes in blood pressure.
Participants were 62 years old on average and just over half were female. Researchers found that nappers had significantly lower average blood pressure over the 24-hour period than those that did not nap. For each hour of napping, the average systolic blood pressure lowered by 3 mmHg.
“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,” said one of the study’s co-authors, Manolis Kallistratos, MD.
According to authors, the benefits of napping were similar to what would be expected from things like lifestyle changes and medication. “For example, salt and alcohol reduction can bring blood pressure levels down by 3–5 mm Hg,” Kallistratos said, adding that a low-dose antihypertensive medication usually lowers blood pressure levels by 5–7 mmHg, on average. In this study, taking a nap during the day was associated with an average 5 mmHg drop in systolic blood pressure.
“These findings are important because a drop in blood pressure as small as 2 mmHg 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.”
Of course, additional research is needed to validate study findings, and naps shouldn’t replace established therapies like a healthy diet and blood pressure medication.