If napping is “linked to poorer health”, does that mean it’s bad for me?

Illustration of a dark brown woman sleeping, with pale pastel colors in the background.

Spoiler alert/ tl:dr version: The answer to the title question is “NO”.

In the world of bad news, Monday’s popular health articles about napping, heart attack and stroke don’t rank anywhere near catastrophic. I mean, we’re used to much worse, right? Still, it wasn’t a happy thing to crank up the laptop, mosey over to and see this:

Napping regularly linked to high blood pressure and stroke, study finds. Sigh.

The Canadian press was a bit more circumspect, but the message still wasn’t good in this article:

Rude awakening: frequent naps linked to poorer heart health. Oh man…

What is going on here?

Like me, the dog is confused.

As usual, the real story is complicated because science is. But here’s something helpful from the Canadian article:

Compared to subjects who never or sometimes napped, researchers found that a higher percentage of usual-nappers were men with lower education and income levels who were also more likely to report smoking cigarettes, daily drinking, insomnia, snoring and being a night owl.

To me, this sounds like that sub-group suffers from or is susceptible to a bunch of chronic health problems (including insomnia) due to social determinants and some of their health behaviors (e.g. smoking, daily drinking). Frequent napping is just one of several tip-offs that persons with the general profile are susceptible to chronic health problems.

To me, these results mean that the napping in some groups is a part of a complex set of behaviors and biomarkers that picks out individuals who may need preventative medical care or other interventions to help them stave off or reduce high blood pressure or the biophysical progression to stroke. Okay. That’s good.

It doesn’t mean that there is anything at all bad or unhealthy about the napping process itself. Napping doesn’t cause hypertension or stroke (at least this study doesn’t show that, and no one thinks this as far as I know). Rather, some frequent nappers have lives and medical profiles that are a tip-off that their cardiovascular health may be at risk.

So, nap or don’t nap. Talk with your health provider about your napping patterns if you’re worried about your life and health history. But don’t let this article keep you awake– at night or any other time.

Who here are nappers? I’m a napper when I’ve been up super-late and then early the next day. Feel free to share your nap stories (after you wake up, of course).

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