Do you take long naps during the day? Recent research suggests that may put you at greater risk for atrial fibrillation, a common form of irregular heartbeat.
But let’s dig a little deeper before you start putting a timer on your afternoon naps.
Researchers found that people who napped for 30 minutes or longer have a 90 percent higher chance of developing the irregular heartbeat known as AFib. There’s still a lot that’s unknown about the finer details of the research. But it seems likely that the increased AFib risk is related to sleep disorders, rather than the duration of your afternoon naps.
What Is AFib?
Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia, originating in the top portion of your heart. The condition can lead to blood clots in the heart and increase your risk for stroke, heart failure and other cardiac disorders. Some people experience no symptoms, while others describe it as feeling like your heart is doing flip-flops or banging against your chest. Other symptoms include:
- Chest pain
- Easily fatigued while exercising
- Shortness of breath
Are You at Risk?
There are many risk factors for AFib, including one you can’t do anything about: age. High blood pressure, which also tends to get worse as we get older, accounts for 20 percent to 50 percent of AFib cases. Among the other risk factors:
- Heart disease
- Thyroid disease
- Chronic kidney disease
- Moderate to heavy alcohol use
- Family history of AFib
There are also links between AFib and sleep disorders. It’s estimated that half of patients with AFib also have sleep apnea, a serious disorder in which breathing starts and stops repeatedly during the night. People who have the disorder may feel tired even after a full night’s sleep. And that gets us back to the question of whether the length of your nap has an impact on your risk for developing AFib.
About Those Naps
Often in science, we come across situations where two things are happening at the same time. But even if both things are true, that doesn’t necessarily mean that one causes the other.
In the case of the recent study, researchers found that people who took longer naps were more likely to develop AFib than those who took shorter naps. What’s missing from the equation is any evidence suggesting the duration of the nap had anything to do with the increased risk. From a biological perspective, it doesn’t really make sense for a long nap to increase your risk, while a short nap has no impact.
As previously noted, we already know that people with sleep disorders (such as sleep apnea) are at higher risk for AFib. And it also follows that people with sleep disorders are more likely to be tired during the day, prompting them to take longer naps.
It’s possible, if not likely, that the people in the study who were taking longer naps have undiagnosed sleep apnea. At the same time, those people taking shorter naps were better rested because they sleep better at night. It’s not the duration of the nap that’s increasing AFib risk, but rather the presence of sleep disorder.
So, if you feel like taking a nap, don’t worry about limiting yourself to 29 minutes or less in an effort to avoid AFib. However, this serves as a reminder about the health risks that come with avoiding problems. If you feel the need to nap an hour or two each day, this could be a symptom of a sleep disorder or other health problem that’s preventing you from getting a good night’s rest. Instead of just living with the problem, take the time to work with your doctor to find out what’s going on.
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