Taking an early afternoon nap is still woven into the fabric of many cultures. It also may deliver a major health benefit — a siesta or midday nap can lower your blood pressure.

That's what a Greek study of 386 people with high blood pressure found. The average age of the study participants was 61.

The longer the midday sleep, the lower the systolic [blood pressure] levels and probably fewer drugs needed to lower BP.

Different customs have differing effects on health, and in this study the researchers wanted to see what effect taking an afternoon nap had on those suffering from high blood pressure.

People who took a midday nap had an average blood pressure over 24 hours that was six points lower than people who did not take a midday nap. It was five points lower while awake and seven points lower while asleep. The nappers also had more flexible arteries and less enlarged hearts.

Pulse wave velocity is a measure of arterial stiffness. Stiffer arteries are a reliable predictor of future heart disease, particularly in older adults. The slower the velocity, the more flexible the arteries are. Pulse wave velocity was 11% slower in those who napped.

Nappers' hearts also benefited from a midday snooze. High blood pressure can enlarge the heart's left atrium, an increase that has been linked to several bad health outcomes. The diameter of the left atriums of nappers was 5% smaller than those of non-nappers.

Napping helped regardless of age, gender, weight, smoking, salt, coffee and alcohol intake, and exercise

“Our study shows that not only is midday sleep associated with lower blood pressure, but longer sleeps are even more beneficial. Midday sleepers had greater dips in blood pressure while sleeping at night which is associated with better health outcomes. We also found that hypertensive patients who slept at noon were under fewer antihypertensive medications compared to those who didn’t sleep midday,” Manolos Kallistratos, the study's lead author, said in a statement.

The study does not prove that the naps led to lower blood pressure. Still, with an estimated 70 million U.S. adults suffering from high blood pressure, it does suggest another possible approach to controlling blood pressure that does not rely on taking medication, which carries its own health risks, added Kallistratos.

Kallistratos, a cardiologist at Asklepieion Voula General Hospital in Athens, Greece, concludes, “The longer the midday sleep, the lower the systolic BP levels and probably fewer drugs needed to lower BP.”

The study was presented at the European Society of Cardiology 2015 Congress. (Look for abstract p 906.) Studies presented at meetings or congresses are generally considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.