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Is napping linked to obesity?

by Ezra 5 minutes read

Last updated: 19 May, 2023

The relationship between napping and obesity has always been complicated and not fully understood. New research, however, suggests that siesta durations of more than 30 minutes could increase your risk of obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Napping is a common practice amongst many cultures, involving a short period of sleep during the day.

In Spanish-speaking countries a nap is known as a siesta and is typically taken after the midday meal in the early afternoon. Businesses, shops, and offices normally close during these hours to allow people to go home and rest before continuing with their evening activities.

The benefits of short naps

The optimal duration of a nap, known as a ‘power nap’, is around 10 to 20 minutes. Longer duration siestas are not recommended as they are more likely to cause grogginess upon waking and reduce overall productivity levels for the rest of the day.

Rest and rejuvenation - Napping allows the mind and body to rest for a short period of time, restoring energy levels and reducing fatigue.

Cognitive function - Napping can improve focus, memory, and cognitive performance.

Reduces stress - Short naps may offer relief from external stressors, greatly improving emotional wellbeing and mood.

Improves productivity - People who take midday naps may see an improvement in their work and athletic performance, being more efficient and creative.

Napping and Obesity

Although there are potential benefits to power naps, a new study shows the importance of not taking naps for longer than 30 minutes.

The study, published in Obesity, examined the relationship between the length of a nap and its link to obesity and metabolic syndrome (the combination of diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity). After assessing more than 3,000 adults from a Mediterranean population, where siesta culture is most common, researchers demonstrated that those who took naps of 30 minutes or more were more likely to have a higher body mass index (BMI). The participants who took longer siestas had a greater likelihood of developing heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and a cluster of other conditions in contrast to those who took short naps.

A BMI that exceeds 25 is classified as obese. Obesity is associated with a greater risk of developing health-related issues such as:

  • High blood pressure

  • Cardiovascular diseases like coronary heart disease

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Elevated systolic blood pressure

  • Metabolic disease

  • Sleep apnea

  • Certain types of cancer

  • Arthritis

  • High cholesterol

This new study follows a previous study done in the United Kingdom, conducted by the same researchers, that found long naps were associated with obesity. They wanted to determine whether short naps, said senior author Marta Garaulet, having a reduced risk of obesity would “hold true in a country where siestas are more culturally embedded [...] as well as how the length of time for siestas is related to metabolic health.”

Why are long naps associated with obesity?

Long naps disrupt regular sleeping patterns and encourage sedentary behaviour, two factors which are known to play key roles in weight gain. Psychological factors may be the root cause of excessive napping, so it is important to speak with a healthcare provider or mental health professional for support if this is the case.

Disrupted sleep patterns

Napping during the day can affect an individual's quality of sleep at night, causing difficulty falling asleep, later nightly sleep timing, and poor sleep quality. Regular disturbances in sleep or an irregular sleeping pattern has been linked with obesity because this disruption of the natural circadian rhythms of the body impacts metabolism and appetite regulation.
Some may experience a slight increase in appetite or cravings after waking up from a nap, especially if the nap disrupted an individual's regular meal schedule. Mindless snacking or overeating can occur if individuals are not being purposefully mindful of their eating choices, leading to an excess calorie intake and weight gain.

Sedentary behaviour

Regularly napping means more time will be spent in a sedentary state then active. Prolonged sedentary behaviour is directly linked to obesity as it results in a lower overall energy expenditure, especially if combined with overeating.

Psychological factors

Suffering from low mood, stress, anxiety, and exhaustion can cause fatigue and an overwhelming desire to nap. Individuals may feel demotivated to engage in activities they used to enjoy, with napping providing emotional relief.

Although napping may provide temporary respite, excessive napping can perpetuate a cycle of poor sleep at night time which can worsen mental health symptoms.

Managing overeating and napping

For those who find they engage in mindless snacking and overeating after waking from a nap, there are a few strategies that can help reduce the risk of gaining weight.

  • Stick to a regular meal schedule - Having structured meal times will help to regulate hunger and reduce the need to overeat

  • Be mindful of hunger cues - Chew food slowly and recognise the feeling of satiation

  • Plan meals and snacks - Having meals and snacks preplanned can help prevent mindless snacking

  • Choose balanced, healthy snacks and nutritious meals - Food high in protein will leave you feeling satisfied for longer

  • Stay hydrated - Hunger can sometimes be confused with thirst so make sure to drink between 6 and 8 glasses of water per day

  • Engage in physical activity after naps - Exercise increases energy expenditure and regulates appetite

  • Be conscious of emotional eating triggers - Find alternative ways to manage stress, anxiety, or depression such as exercise, hobbies, and mindfulness

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