Harvard Men's Health Watch

Siestas and your heart: Can you nap your way to health?

Here in the United States, many people consider eight hours an ideal amount of sleep — and most of them expect those eight hours to come in one block at night. But in Latin America, Mediterranean countries, and other parts of the world, the ideal slumber follows quite a different pattern. In sunny climates, people like to retreat from the heat and stress of a busy day for an afternoon siesta, then make up the difference by staying up late at night.

Cultural norms evolve to suit the needs and preferences of particular societies. But human biology is much the same in Athens and Chicago. Perhaps, then, a study of siestas in Greece will help Americans understand their own choices for healthful sleep. The study also raises the interesting possibility that a daily siesta may help ward off heart disease.

The Greek Epic Study

To look for a link between siestas and the risk of heart disease, scientists from the University of Athens Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health studied 23,681 Greek men and women. All the volunteers were free of diagnosed heart diseases, cancer, and stroke when they enrolled in the study between 1994 and 1999. They all reported on their napping habits; the researchers classified them as regular nappers, occasional nappers, or non-nappers. They also collected information on all the participants' age, education, smoking status, employment, exercise level, diet, body mass index, and waist-to-hip ratio.

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