Dubai Health Authority Power Napping
Image Credit: Getty

As we enter the festive period, many of us are likely to be socialising and indulging in your favourite foods. Such activities can lead to feelings of fatigue, but should you fight the urge for a quick power nap or succumb to a short snooze?

In September, a study published in the journal, Heart, found a correlation between people who nap once or twice a week and a lower risk of cardiovascular issues.

There is a stigma among people that if you nap in the afternoon, you are lazy, which is not true.

- Dr Bassam Mahboub, Consultant and Head of Pulmonary Medicine, Rashid Hospital, DHA

For the study, the researchers reviewed data from 3,462 randomly selected residents from Lausanne in Switzerland. The participants were aged between 35 and 75 and 58 per cent of the people said that they hadn’t napped during the previous week. Those who had napped one or two times in the previous week accounted for 19 per cent of the 3,462 and 12 per cent of the people said they had taken between three and five naps in the previous week. People who took between six and seven naps accounted for 11 per cent of the participants.

The researchers found that people who napped frequently tended to be older, male and smokers. They also weighed more than people who didn’t nap and were more likely to sleep during the night.

Yet, for people who napped occasionally, which the researchers categorised as between once and twice a week, napping almost halved their risk of suffering a heart attack, stroke or heart failure in comparison to those who didn’t nap at all.

The results didn’t change after the team factored in other issues such as excessive daytime sleepiness, depression and nightime sleep patterns. The only risk factor that changed the results was sleep apnoea for people over the age of 65.

The team also found that the heightened risk of cardiovascular health issues disappeared in people who napped frequently once other health factors were factored.

Dr Yue Leng and Kristine Yaffe, from the University of California at San Francisco, USA, said that although it would be premature to see the results as conclusive, the study suggested that the frequency of napping is potentially significant. “While the exact physiological pathways linking daytime napping to [cardiovascular disease] risk is not clear, [this research] contributes to the ongoing debate on the health implications of napping, and suggests that it might not only be the duration, but also the frequency that matters,” they said in a joint editorial.

Optimising your nap

Dr Bassam Mahboub, Consultant and Head of Pulmonary Medicine, Rashid Hospital, DHA, believes that napping can be beneficial. “Napping is usually a good way to restore energy and to reboot your brain,” he says.

Dr Mahboub underlines that there is an optimal length and time people should nap for. “The best nap is for between 20 and 40 minutes, between 1pm and 4pm.”

He also says that age and people’s busyness are factors for their need to nap, with the elderly more susceptible to a daytime snooze.

“In most likelihoods, as you age your sleep efficiency and sleep quality will be reduced, which makes it necessary for the body to have a nap in the afternoon. For people who have long working days and long meetings in the afternoon, it is good to have a time when you can take a break and power nap.”

Misinformed stigma

One of the issues that Dr Mahboub believes reduces people’s willingness to sleep briefly during the day, is an unfair reputation that others associate with napping. “There is a stigma among people that if you nap in the afternoon, you are lazy, which is not true. There are many studies that say that, in modern societies, people don’t sleep for seven hours and that the average person sleeps for between five and five-and-a-half hours, which is not enough.”

Health benefits

Dr Mahboub points out that in comparison to sleep deprivation, any problems associated with napping are significantly outweighed by the health benefits of meeting your sleep requirements. “There is a correlation between mortality and disease development and how much

people sleep. For those that don’t get enough sleep, napping during the day is a great thing to do,” he says.

“For people who come to us with sleep-quality problems such as insomnia or sleep apnoea, we can prescribe napping time for them. Ordinarily, we suggest reduced working hours (by two hours) for three months and then we re-evaluate their condition.”