Sleep danger: Restless nights can increase blood pressure, study warns

Experts say small changes can help people rest easier and reduce the risk of poor sleep causing high blood pressure. Source: Getty

While most people know that a lack of exercise, eating unhealthy foods and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can increase blood pressure, researchers now believe sleep plays an important role in controlling the cardiovascular condition too.

In fact, a bad night’s sleep could cause blood pressure to spike in the night and the following day, new research published in the Psychosomatic Medicine Journal says.

Blood pressure is the total pressure on the walls of arteries as the heart pumps blood around the body. It naturally rises and falls throughout the day but when a reading is regularly over 120/80mmHg, medication, diet and lifestyle changes are required to bring it back down to healthy levels.

If not correctly managed, high blood pressure can lead to heart attacks, strokes and life-threatening kidney issues.

While researchers know that poor sleep impacts cardiovascular health, the reason for the link between the two hasn’t previously been understood. However, the latest research of 300 men and women aged between 21 and 70, with no history of heart problems, investigated this connection further.

Participants wore portable blood pressure cuffs for two days – which randomly recorded blood pressure at different points throughout the day and night.

Participants also wore medical devices at night to determine sleep efficiency and the amount of time people slept soundly in bed. Participants with lower sleep efficiency recorded higher blood pressure during the restless night and a higher systolic blood pressure reading (pressure in the arteries during the contraction of the heart muscle) the next day.

“Blood pressure is one of the best predictors of cardiovascular health,” lead study author Caroline Doyle said in a statement. “There is a lot of literature out there that shows sleep has some kind of impact on mortality and on cardiovascular disease.”

The study shows it’s not just the amount of time people sleep, but the quality they’re getting each night too. Making small changes such as keeping mobile devices in other rooms, limiting screen time and falling asleep in a dark room can assist.

“For anything that’s going to cause you to waken, think ahead about what you can do to mitigate those effects,” study co-author John Ruiz said.

In patients with chronic sleep problems, cognitive behavioural therapy is recommended and focuses on making behavioural changes to improve sleep health.

“This study stands on the shoulders of a broad literature looking at sleep and cardiovascular health,” Doyle said. “This is one more study that shows something is going on with sleep and our heart health. Sleep is important, so whatever you can do to improve your sleep, it’s worth prioritising.”

High blood pressure is currently a huge global health issue. In Australia alone, one in three people experience the condition, but only 50 per cent of people know they have it. It accounted for about 10.4 million deaths in 2017 and currently affects more than a billion adults globally, research in the European Heart Journal Supplements explained earlier this year.

It’s always important to talk to a GP about blood pressure, the best ways to manage it and if you believe your sleeping habits could be increasing your risk of heart disease.

How much sleep do you get each night? Do you live with high blood pressure?

Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and information purposes only. It does not take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. It is not personalised health advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any decisions about your health or changes to medication, diet and exercise routines you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from a medical professional.

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