Office nappers now have the perfect excuse: Research shows that a little midday snooze seems to reduce the risk of fatal heart problems, especially among men.
In the largest study of siestas as related to coronary deaths, researchers reported yesterday that people who napped at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week, were 37 percent less likely to die from heart disease. Those who napped occasionally saw a 12 percent reduction.
"If you can have a nap without disturbing your working pattern or relationship with your boss, do have it," said senior author, Dr. Dimitrios Trichopoulos, an epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Trichopoulos said the risk reduction found in the study is about on par with drugs commonly prescribed to reduce cardiovascular risk, such as statins. Plus, napping has no side effects, although researchers did not examine the issue of job loss.
Trichopoulos got the idea for the study because countries where siestas are common tend to have low death rates for coronary heart disease.
The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, followed for about six years 23,681 people in Greece who had no history of coronary heart disease, stroke or cancer.
Trichopoulos said the number of deaths was small, 133 from coronary heart disease. Thus, broad conclusions were difficult to draw, he said. Still, after sifting out for factors such as obesity, smoking and diet, the protective association remained, he said.
The study, funded by the European Commission and the Greek government, did not pinpoint how napping protected the heart, but Trichopoulos thought stress relief probably played a role.
Several researchers not connected to the study found the results intriguing, but not definitive.
If people "are interested in lowering their risk of cardiovascular disease, they should stick to the tried and true - which includes not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, a healthy blood pressure and a healthy cholesterol level," said UCLA cardiologist Dr. Gregg Fonarow.
As for Trichopoulos: "For the last 20 years of my life, I've worked in the U.S. So, I can't really take a nap."
It's possible that study participants who napped "are just people who take better care of themselves," which could also benefit the heart, said Dr. Marvin Wooten, a sleep specialist at Columbia St. Mary's Hospital in Milwaukee.
"The guy ... who doesn't take time out for a siesta in their culture is probably the guy who is extremely driven and under a lot of pressure," which could increase heart risks, he said.
Siestas aren't ingrained in U.S. culture, and napping usually is equated with laziness in the high-charging corporate world, said Bill Anthony, a Boston University psychologist and co-author of The Art of Napping at Work.
Still, some offices allow on-the-job naps, and many workers say it makes them more, not less, productive.
Yarde Metals, a metals distributing firm, built a nap room at its Southington, Conn., headquarters as part of an employee wellness program, with two leather sofas, fluffy pillows, soft lighting and an alarm clock,
Jia-Rui Chong writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.