In some parts of the world, the midday nap is a time-honoured tradition - like the siesta tradition in Spain, which gets people out of the sun during the hottest part of the day and gives them more time to digest their midday meal. And now new research points to a real and tangible health benefit to these early afternoon breaks, finding a link between a daytime snooze and a lower blood pressure.
The study was presented by Greek cardiologist Manolis Kallistratos, who looked at blood pressure levels in 386 patients (200 men and 186 women) with an average age of 61.4 years. After adjustments for factors such as gender, smoking status, and body mass, Kallistratos found that the patients who indulged in a midday nap had on average a 5 percent lower ambulatory systolic blood pressure reading (the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats) than those who didn't.
Readings were found to be an average of 5 mmHg lower during the daytime and 7 mmHg lower during the night for the nappers, and that can lead to a substantial difference in health in the long term. "Although the mean BP [blood pressure] decrease seems low, it has to be mentioned that reductions as small as 2 mmHg in systolic blood pressure can reduce the risk of cardiovascular events by up to 10 percent," says Kallistratos. "Midday naps seem to lower blood pressure levels and may probably also decrease the number of required antihypertensive medications."
And if you're wondering just when to set your alarm for, the research suggests the longer the snooze the greater the benefits, though Kallistratos didn't offer up an 'ideal' duration for a midday nap - as with your night-time rest, it's likely to depend on your personal biological make-up. He did admit that the opportunity for a midday sleep is a privilege unavailable to most people during a nine-to-five weekday, and you might have to give up your lunch hour and find a quiet spot for some shut-eye if you want to work on lowering your blood pressure.
If you do become a fan of a daytime snooze, you're in good company: former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was known to favour a nap during the afternoon, as were famous inventor Thomas Edison and US President John F. Kennedy. Previous studies have indicated that the habit can lead to improvements in alertness, memory function, and creativity, as well as a reduction in stress levels.