Frontier: Afternoon Siesta Protects the Heart
News from the Frontier

by Elizabeth Norton Lasley

March, 2007

Researchers have tended to overlook the brain in studying the many aspects of the Mediterranean lifestyle, including red wine and olive oil, that are thought to confer cardiovascular health. But a new study suggests that taking an afternoon siesta also may decrease one’s risk of heart disease.

Working with Greek participants in an ongoing, international study, researchers at the University of Athens Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health followed a group of more than 23,000 healthy people for an average of six years. In addition to napping frequency, the investigators studied diet and exercise habits, smoking, body mass index, employment status, and education levels.

People who napped at least three times a week for at least thirty minutes at a time had 37 percent lower incidence of death from heart disease than those who did not nap. The association was strongest among working men. Intensive statistical scrutiny ruled out other habits as being responsible for the dramatic difference in death from heart-related causes. (Only six deaths were observed in working women during the study period.)

Although the result is not precisely a neurological finding, research has shown that too little sleep can interfere with the brain’s orchestration of the stress response, throwing levels of stress hormones into imbalance and setting the stage for many stress-related illnesses. “Among healthy adults, siesta, possibly on account of stress-releasing consequences, may reduce coronary mortality,” the authors write.