Want To Lower Your Blood Pressure? Get Better Sleep
November 08, 2021
Everyone knows that a poor night of sleep can mean a groggy morning, a fuzzy brain or feeling sluggish throughout the day. However, the long-term consequences of lack of sleep or disrupted sleep can be more serious.
Getting fewer than seven to nine hours of sleep each night increases your risk of developing high blood pressure, which is also called hypertension. If you already have hypertension, poor sleep quality might make the condition worse.
For those with hypertension, focusing on your sleep duration and quality is one way to lower your blood pressure, says UH nurse practitioner Betty Kampman, CNP, who specializes in sleep medicine.
“With improved sleep, we may see an improvement in blood pressure,” she says. “Some patients have even been able to decrease or discontinue their medications.
“At the end of the day, if they get a good night’s sleep, that improves a multitude of things,” she says.
Fight or Flight Response
A recent article published in the journal Hypertension examined the science-backed links between poor sleep and hypertension. It showed that short sleep duration, working a night shift and obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder that causes you to repeatedly stop and start breathing while you sleep, are all associated with risk for hypertension.
Although many studies involving hundreds of thousands of adults around the world have confirmed a link between short sleep duration and high blood pressure, it’s unclear why.
It may be that the body requires a long period of sleep to manage certain hormone levels that help control blood pressure. Or in the case of obstructive sleep apnea, Ms. Kampman says, repeatedly waking up may trigger a fight-or-flight response that raises the heart rate and increases blood pressure.
Normally, blood pressure decreases during sleep. One analysis, published in the journal Chest, says that when blood pressure does not dip enough or fails to dip due to short sleep duration or interrupted sleep, cardiovascular risk increases.
The analysis says many diseases in addition to hypertension are linked with this reduced dipping or non-dipping blood pressure during sleep, such as chronic kidney disease, diabetes, resistant hypertension and obstructive sleep apnea.
In any case, the evidence suggests that regularly sleeping fewer than seven to nine hours a night raises the risk for developing hypertension and other risk factors for heart disease.
One cause of lack of sleep – and the resulting high blood pressure – could be obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common sleep-related breathing disorder and occurs when your throat muscles sporadically relax and block your airway during sleep. The most noticeable sign of obstructive sleep apnea is snoring.
Obstructive sleep apnea can be treated. One treatment is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. This involves a device that uses air pressure to keep your airway open while you sleep.
Ms. Kampman says she has seen many patients who have seen their waking blood pressure decrease after starting CPAP therapy. Their blood pressure improves and they also report an increased level of energy due to less fatigue. As a result, their ability to exercise increases.
Several patients have been able to lose weight with CPAP, due to having less fatigue and an ability to exercise more which in turn also reduces blood pressure.
“Good sleep is a pillar of health," she says. "It is very important to obtain sufficient sleep to restore your mind and body. It factors into everything else – improved quality of life, improved mental health and increased physical activity.”
UH Sleep Medicine Services specializes in evaluation and treatment of pediatric and adult patients with sleep-related disorders. Accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, our experts understand that no two patients are exactly the same and will work with you and your primary care physician to customize a plan of care. Learn more about sleep medicine services at UH.