A bad night’s sleep may result in a rise in blood pressure that night and the following day, according to a new study.
The findings offer one possible explanation for why sleep problems increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, and even death from cardiovascular disease, researchers say.
Scientific literature has increasingly established the link between poor sleep and cardiovascular health problems, but the reason for the relationship is less understood.
Researchers set out to learn more about the connection in a study of 300 men and women, ages 21 to 70, with no history of heart problems. Participants wore portable blood pressure cuffs for two consecutive days. The cuffs randomly took participants’ blood pressure during 45-minute intervals throughout each day and also overnight.
At night, participants wore actigraphy monitors—wristwatch-like devices that measure movement—to help determine “sleep efficiency,” or the amount of time in bed spent sleeping soundly.
Overall, people who had lower sleep efficiency showed an increase in blood pressure during that restless night. They also had higher systolic blood pressure—the top number in a patient’s blood pressure reading—the next day.
More research is needed to understand why poor sleep raises blood pressure and what it could mean long-term for people with chronic sleep issues. Yet, these latest findings may be an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to understanding the pathway through which sleep impacts overall cardiovascular health, researchers say.
“Blood pressure is one of the best predictors of cardiovascular health,” says Caroline Doyle, a graduate student in the psychology department at the University of Arizona and lead author of the paper in Psychosomatic Medicine.
“There is a lot of literature out there that shows sleep has some kind of impact on mortality and on cardiovascular disease, which is the number one killer of people in the country. We wanted to see if we could try to get a piece of that story—how sleep might be impacting disease through blood pressure.”
The study reinforces just how important a good night’s sleep can be. It’s not just the amount of time you spend in bed, but the quality of sleep you’re getting, says coauthor John Ruiz, associate professor of psychology.
Move the phone, close the shades
Improving sleep quality can start with making simple changes and being proactive, Ruiz says.
“Keep the phone in a different room. If your bedroom window faces the east, pull the shades. For anything that’s going to cause you to waken, think ahead about what you can do to mitigate those effects.”
For those with chronic sleep troubles, Doyle advocates cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, or CBTI, which focuses on making behavioral changes to improve sleep health. Both the American College of Physicians and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommend CBTI as the first line of treatment for insomnia.
The researchers say they hope the findings, which show the impact of even one fitful night’s rest can have on the body, will help illuminate just how critical sleep is for heart health.
“This study stands on the shoulders of a broad literature looking at sleep and cardiovascular health,” Doyle says. “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 prioritizing.”
Source: University of Arizona