You snooze, you lose?

A new study shows a correlation between naps and early mortality in older women.


Kate Harding
April 3, 2009 10:05PM (UTC)

There are a few things about old age I've always looked forward to: the good excuse to move to a warm climate, playing bingo unironically, my grandchildren finding it charming when I drink whiskey and drop F-bombs, and having the freedom to nap like a toddler without being judged lazy. So I was less than thrilled to read the opening sentence of this article: "A daily nap may boost an elderly woman's risk of dying, a new study suggests." Gah! There goes sleeping off the breakfast whiskey!

Instead, the study offers a lesson in the difference between correlation and causation. A few paragraphs down, we find that "the researchers said people shouldn't link napping to poor health or recommend that seniors skip napping." (I shall politely ignore that the same article in which this line appears essentially begins by doing just that.) Said researchers believe the real problem is that excessive napping might indicate sleep disorders that prevent people from getting adequate nighttime rest -- so the appropriate response is to diagnose and treat the underlying problem, not discourage napping. Also, "numerous past studies ... have found that napping may have health benefits," and even the study under discussion found that elderly white women who napped fewer than three hours a week weren't at any increased risk of early mortality. Whew!

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Note to any of my loved ones who are around in 40 years or so: I promise to go to the doctor if I'm having trouble sleeping normally, as long as you promise not to wake me up before happy hour.


Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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