Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sleep Associated with Lower Heart Disease

Most of the studies on Mediterranean people and health have focused on the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fresh produce, olive oil, and red wine and low in red meat.

A new study suggests that taking regular naps is part of the healthy effect of living Mediterranean style. The University of Athens Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health studied 23,681 healthy people -- no history of heart disease, stroke, or cancer -- over the course of 6 years.

People who napped at least three times a week for at least 30 minutes at a time were 37% less likely to die of heart disease than those who didn't take regular siestas. The findings were stronger among working men, which suggests yet again the link between health and stress reduction techniques -- whether mindfulness, yoga, or napping!

The famous Nurses' Health Study included 71,617 women between the ages of 40 and 65 showed a similar sleep-heart health connection. Women who slept only 5 hours a night had 45% greater likelihood of heart problems. Too much sleep could be a problem too, so what's up, if naps are good and too little or too much sleep is bad?

According to the Dana Foundation's "Brain Work" newsletter:

"Research has shown that too little sleep interferes 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."

Back to napping. I've always been a napper, even as a kid. My mom took naps. My dad took naps. I always say I was meant to be a Mediterranean soul (love the climate, the foods, and all those naps!).

As an adult, with a busy life, I find that my immune system is typically stronger when I take at least one good nap over the weekend. I know, it's anecdotal, but the correlation is pretty high in my mind. Times in my life where I continued to sprint on weekends and cut short my sleep in general were times when I was sick more often.

My husband, Steve, has a productivity ticker somewhere inside, and napping always seemed like a waste of time to him. He's started to relax a bit and enjoy a nap more often though, which is good news given the Greek study's findings and especially given his family history of heart disease.

Don't worry, he's on Heart Plus, fish oil, extra fiber, etc., so I'm not counting on the naps do the heavy-lifting. Still, it's nice to have company, besides the cats, for those weekend naps!

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