The research paper is published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Taking a siesta is common in populations with low coronary mortality such as Mediterranean countries, but until now research has thrown up conflicting results.
In the largest prospective study of its kind, scientists from the University of Athens and the Harvard School of Public Health followed 23,681 healthy adults aged between 20 and 86 for an average period of 6.32 years.
Using a statistical method called Cox regression analysis and taking into account other possible confounders such as diet and exercise, the researchers found a stable inverse relation between taking naps during the day and risk of death from coronary causes. The more people napped, the lower their risk of dying of heart disease and stroke.
They found that those who napped systematically during the day, that is slept for at least 30 minutes three times a week or more, had a 37 per cent lower risk of coronary mortality than those who did not sleep during the day.
The strongest link between lower coronary mortality and napping during the day was found among working men. There were not enough deaths among women to establish if this was also the case for them.
Even people who napped occasionally had a 12 per cent lower coronary mortality compared to those people who did not nap at all.
The men and women in the study were part of the Greek European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition [EPIC] cohort.
The EPIC cohort is a good sample because it includes data on potentially confounding variables such as other possible causes of death, physical activity and diet. Also, nobody had a history of coronary heart disease, stroke or cancer at the time of enrollment in the study.
The study authors said that having a siesta conveys a considerable benefit against coronary mortality. They recommend that people who take a daily nap should continue to do so, and those that don’t should wait until further studies confirm these findings and if they do – consider changing their lifestyle to fit in a siesta.
In many cultures, particularly hot countries, taking an afternoon nap is common. The after lunch siesta is taken in regions of Portugal (known as “sesta”), Spain, many Latin American countries, the Philippines, China, Italy (the “reposo”), India, the Middle East, North Africa, and as this study has shown, Greece.
There is a region of Argentina that calls the period from 13.00 to 16.00 “sagrada” or sacred because it is reserved for siesta time.
And in Japan it is not unusual for companies to provide “napping rooms” or “desk pillows” for employees to take a nap during working hours.
The word “siesta” comes from the Latin “hora sexta”, or the sixth hour after dawn.
“Siesta in Healthy Adults and Coronary Mortality in the General Population.”
Androniki Naska; Eleni Oikonomou; Antonia Trichopoulou; Theodora Psaltopoulou; Dimitrios Trichopoulos.
Arch Intern Med. 2007;167:296-301.
Written by: Catharine Paddock
Writer: Medical News Today