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Thinking of taking a nap? Here’s how long it should be

Taking a long, luxurious nap seems like it would help with any potential sleep deficits that you may have after waking up early, but new research suggests too many of them might actually shorten your lifespan. A meta-analysis of 20 studies — totaling more than 300,000 participants, presented at the 2020 European Society of Cardiology conference — looked at how often and how long people nap for, along with any associations with negative health outcomes.Researchers found that 39% of participants took naps regularly, and in that group, sleeping more than 60 minutes was associated with a 30 percent greater risk of early death and a 34% higher likelihood of cardiovascular disease.Does that mean the solution might be daily short naps? Maybe not. Another study, published last year in the journal Heart, found that a short-duration nap taken once or twice per week is actually beneficial for your heart health, but increasing that amount might nullify those benefits. According to Yue Leng, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, and coauthor of an editorial on the above meta-analysis, naps seem like they’d have nothing but benefits, but some research suggests otherwise.“They’re much more complicated than previously believed, and unfortunately, we are only just starting to understand the health implications,” she said. “We simply don’t know enough yet to recommend how often you should nap and for how long.” Part of the problem, she added, is that people tend to nap more when they have health issues, so there’s a chicken-and-egg conundrum here. Do naps cause health difficulties, or are they merely an indication of an underlying condition or chronic sleep deprivation? Right now, the latter seems to be more likely, but as Leng noted, the research needs to catch up to conjecture. With that said, if you’re a fan of naps, you don’t have to abandon them completely, according to W. Christopher Winter, M.D., president of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine and author of “The Sleep Solution.” But you may want to be more strategic about the timing of them rather than hitting your bed whenever your energy lags. Winter said that if you do take a nap, napping in the late morning or early afternoon rather than closer to bedtime is best to prevent evening sleep disruption. He also recommended napping at about the same time during the day so your brain anticipates the sleep and relaxes in advance, and most of all, napping when you think you need one, not just because it’s a habit. Limit your naps to once or twice a week, he added, and don’t stress if you need another one occasionally. And if you simply need a very long nap once in a while? Go for it, Winter suggests. But when you find that you need them all the time, it may be a cue to get a health checkup.

Taking a long, luxurious nap seems like it would help with any potential sleep deficits that you may have after waking up early, but new research suggests too many of them might actually shorten your lifespan.

A meta-analysis of 20 studies — totaling more than 300,000 participants, presented at the 2020 European Society of Cardiology conference — looked at how often and how long people nap for, along with any associations with negative health outcomes.

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Researchers found that 39% of participants took naps regularly, and in that group, sleeping more than 60 minutes was associated with a 30 percent greater risk of early death and a 34% higher likelihood of cardiovascular disease.

Does that mean the solution might be daily short naps? Maybe not. Another study, published last year in the journal Heart, found that a short-duration nap taken once or twice per week is actually beneficial for your heart health, but increasing that amount might nullify those benefits.

According to Yue Leng, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, and coauthor of an editorial on the above meta-analysis, naps seem like they’d have nothing but benefits, but some research suggests otherwise.

“They’re much more complicated than previously believed, and unfortunately, we are only just starting to understand the health implications,” she said. “We simply don’t know enough yet to recommend how often you should nap and for how long.”

Part of the problem, she added, is that people tend to nap more when they have health issues, so there’s a chicken-and-egg conundrum here. Do naps cause health difficulties, or are they merely an indication of an underlying condition or chronic sleep deprivation? Right now, the latter seems to be more likely, but as Leng noted, the research needs to catch up to conjecture.

With that said, if you’re a fan of naps, you don’t have to abandon them completely, according to W. Christopher Winter, M.D., president of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine and author of “The Sleep Solution.” But you may want to be more strategic about the timing of them rather than hitting your bed whenever your energy lags.

Winter said that if you do take a nap, napping in the late morning or early afternoon rather than closer to bedtime is best to prevent evening sleep disruption. He also recommended napping at about the same time during the day so your brain anticipates the sleep and relaxes in advance, and most of all, napping when you think you need one, not just because it’s a habit. Limit your naps to once or twice a week, he added, and don’t stress if you need another one occasionally.

And if you simply need a very long nap once in a while? Go for it, Winter suggests. But when you find that you need them all the time, it may be a cue to get a health checkup.

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