Frequent Napping and Stroke, Hypertension Risk

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Experts say daytime happing can sometimes be a sign of poor sleep quality at night. Kathrin Ziegler/Getty Images
  • Researchers say excessive daytime napping may be a sign of higher risk for hypertension and stroke.
  • They say the naps themselves aren’t necessarily a health concern, but they may be an indicator of poor sleep quality at night that does impact overall health.
  • Experts recommend that naps be short rests and that they not be taken late in the afternoon.
  • They add you can lower your risk of high blood pressure by eating a plant-based diet and exercising at least 30 minutes a day.

Around one-third of adults in the United States take a daytime nap, with many indicating that naps relax and recharge them.

However, a study published today reports that people who take regular daytime naps might be more at risk for hypertension and stroke.

Researchers in China used information from the UK Biobank, an extensive biomedical database and research resource. The site contains genetic, lifestyle, and health information from more than 500,000 people.

In this study, research participants were between the ages of 40 and 69 and lived in the United Kingdom between 2006 and 2010. Each person provided blood, urine, and saliva samples regularly.

The scientists did not have access to names or personal information. Between 2006 and 2019, participants were asked about daytime napping four times.

After ruling out people who were previously diagnosed with high blood pressure or had had a stroke before the start of the study, the scientists had information for 360,000 individuals. The average follow-up was 11 years after the beginning of the study.

The researchers divided the participants into three groups based on napping frequency: never/rarely, sometimes, or usually.

The study findings included:

  • Most “usual nappers” were men, had lower education and income levels, smoked cigarettes, drank regularly, snored, had insomnia, and reported being an evening/night person.
  • Compared to people in the never/rarely category, people who usually napped had a 12 percent higher likelihood of developing high blood pressure and a 24 percent higher chance of stroke.
  • Participants under 60 who reported usually napping had a 20 percent higher risk of developing hypertension than those who never or rarely rested.

“It is important to note that a majority of the ‘usual-nappers’ reported other conditions or lifestyle factors that could contribute to high blood pressure,” says Dr. Samuel Werner DO, a family medicine specialist and an adjunct assistant professor at the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in New Jersey. “We have known for decades that smoking contributes to cardiovascular issues and people with untreated sleep apnea do not get quality sleep because they wake, often without knowing it, throughout the night.”

“Previous studies have found that higher BMIs, which can in part, be caused by drinking, can increase the risk for high blood pressure and stroke,” Werner told Healthline.

Around three-fourths of the participants remained in the same category throughout the study period. However, for those whose napping frequency increased by one category, such as from “sometimes” to “usually” napping, high blood pressure risk increased by 40 percent.

The researchers believe that it is not necessarily napping that leads to high blood pressure or stroke but that many people who nap do so because of poor nighttime sleep.

Naps do not make up for missed or interrupted sleep during the night. Researchers say it is poor sleep at night that is associated with poorer health.

“Ideally, people should get seven hours of uninterrupted sleep at night. This amount provides the most benefit to cardiovascular health,” Dr. Andrew M Freeman, FACC, FACP, a cardiologist at National Jewish Health in Denver, told Healthline. “High blood pressure is widespread. Your chance of death doubles for every 20 points over the 120 mark when measuring blood pressure.

Limitations of the study include:

  • Researchers did not ask or keep track of nap durations, potentially influencing health outcomes.
  • Most participants were middle-aged or older adults of European descent and the results might not be transferable to other groups of people.
  • Nap frequency was self-reported, making it potentially inaccurate.

There are some things you can do to lower your risk for hypertension and stroke.

Freeman suggests those having difficulty sleeping to institute the following practices in their daily routines:

“But even more important,” said Werner, “is contacting your doctor. People who have daytime sleepiness, have the need to nap, or wake up feeling tired, should reach out to their doctor.”

“Fatigue is a warning sign that shouldn’t be ignored,” he added. “It is the first sign for a multitude of serious medical conditions, such as cancer, kidney disease, depression, and multiple sclerosis. You and your doctor should work together to determine the underlying reason for daytime sleepiness so that condition can be treated.”

If you do need to nap, the National Sleep Foundation provides some ideas for getting the most benefit from a nap:

Limit your nap time and set your alarm. A short nap of 10 to 20 minutes provides restorative sleep without drowsiness afterward.

Don’t nap late in the day. Try to nap at about the halfway point between waking and bedtime. Napping later than this can interfere with nighttime sleep.

Find the best place to nap. Sleep in an area that is comfortable, dark, cool, and quiet.

Use relaxation techniques to help you fall asleep. These can help you let go of worries that could be interfering with your sleep.

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