News you can use

Since I’ve been sidelined by my lung illness, I’ve found that I get tired easily and as a result, often take naps for a couple of hours in the afternoon. Raised under a uniquely American work ethic that considers such behavior “lazy” and unproductive, I’ve always felt a bit guilty about this.

But today has brought sweet vindication in the form of news from a team of American and Greek researchers who have found scientific proof that naps are good for you. According to their study, those who take at least three daytime naps a week lasting 30 minutes or longer cut their risk of dying from a heart attack by 37 percent.

“If you can take a midday nap, do so,” advised co-author Dimitrios Trichopoulos, an epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. Trichopoulos and his colleagues followed almost 24,000 originally healthy men and women in Greece for more than six years. Of these, 792 died, 133 of them from heart disease. Slightly more than half the study group took regular midday naps, a popular activity in Mediterranean societies. The nappers’ death rate was only about two-thirds the rate among Greeks who stayed awake all day, the study found.

Regular siestas apparently lower stress, which is frequently associated with heart disease. This report in the medical journal Archives of Internal Medicine is the latest in a number of studies that have found links between heart troubles and physical or emotional stress. “There is considerable evidence that both acute and chronic stress are related to heart disease,” Trichopoulos said. “An afternoon siesta in a healthy individual may act as a stress-releasing process [and] reduce coronary mortality.” Napping provides the body with an opportunity to recover from stress, and can result in measurable improvement in a person’s blood pressure, heart rate, hormones, sugar and cholesterol levels.

Napping is a much more commonly accepted practice in many countries outside the USA; here, boiler-room pressure to stay competitive tends to cause most bosses to frown upon daytime sleepers. However, some forward-thinking employers have realized the value of helping their workers avoid stress and stay healthy, and have set up “nap rooms” for employees use during the day. This progressive attitude can make a huge difference in the therapeutic value of an afternoon siesta.

“Here, if a person naps, people say, ‘You lazy slob’,” said Peter Vitaliano, a professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle. “In the Mediterranean countries — like Greece, Italy and Spain — they say, ‘Did you have a good nap?’ So there’s going to be a difference how much naps help.”

I’m glad to know that I’m on the cutting edge of health, and I encourage my readers to do the same whenever they get the chance. Maybe right now. If you’re reading this blog at work, you can’t be doing anything that important, so why not grab a few zz’s? If your boss complains about you sleeping at your desk or office, just show them this prescription from Dr. Toast for reducing stress and avoiding heart disease, and point out how taking a nap could save your life. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled.

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