Poor Sleep-- Higher Blood Pressure: Fitful Nights May Endanger Health
Surprisingly, poor sleep can affect your heart. Although 30 percent of U.S. adults suffer from insomnia, many don’t realize that strong evidence links sleep problems with a higher risk for heart attacks, strokes and even death from cardiovascular disease. But what does getting too little shut-eye have to do with our hearts?
Scientists are working hard to understand this link. Some past studies do offer one possibility. They show that poor sleepers have signs of low-grade inflammation in their bodies, which could increase their risk for heart disease and strokes.
Now there’s new evidence from a study that too little good quality sleep may raise our blood pressure—and that’s a well-known, serious threat to the heart. It’s the first study to measure daytime and night blood pressure, using an objective sleep monitor and portable blood pressure recorder to explore any link between sleep and blood pressure in a large, diverse sample of adults with no history of heart problems. The study, published online ahead of print, will appear in a forthcoming issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, journal of the American Psychosomatic Society.
Participants were 300 racially and ethnically diverse people 21 to 70 years old, half women and half men. They all wore portable blood pressure cuffs for two days straight, and again at night only after the second day of study. (Researchers omitted the first night of cuffs to make sure that wearing them didn’t change sleep patterns—and it didn’t.) Blood pressure readings were taken randomly during each 45-minute block of time. Also, everyone wore a motion-detecting watch that records any movement and allowed the researchers to detect when participants were awake or asleep .
The findings were clear-cut: “Your overnight sleep quality affects your blood pressure at night and the next day. It’s not just how many hours you spend in bed but the amount that you actually sleep that matters,” says study coauthor Caroline Doyle, M.A., a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Arizona. She worked with coauthor John Ruiz, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Clinical Health Psychology.
Overall, those who used their time in bed less efficiently, less time sleeping soundly, had higher systolic blood pressure the next day as well as higher night-time diastolic and systolic pressure.
So it’s likely that the stuff keeping us awake may be driving these blood pressure increases. “It could be anything from worries about our life to just moving around a lot, checking our phones or even our concerns about not falling asleep,” says Ruiz.
The take-home message is that it pays to improve your sleep habits. “Put the phone away and turn off the TV,” suggests Ruiz. Get into a nightly habit of calming yourself before bedtime, and reserve the bed for sleep. The payoff may be not only the joy of feeling more rested but also lower blood pressure and less chance of dying from a heart attack or stroke.
The American Psychosomatic Society (APS) (http://www.psychosomatic.org), founded in 1942, is an international multidisciplinary academic society that conducts an annual scientific meeting and educational programs. Psychosomatic Medicine is its scientific journal. The membership of over 700 is composed of academic scientists and clinicians in medicine, psychiatry, epidemiology, health psychology and allied health services. The mission of the APS is “to advance and integrate the scientific study of biological, psychological, behavioral and social factors in health and disease.”