Struggling With High Blood Pressure? Your Sleep May Be To Blame

03/18/2015 08:00 am ET
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Looking to lower your blood pressure? Fix your poor sleep habits first, suggests a new study.

Mayo Clinic researchers recently set out to find how reduced sleep quantity and quality could affect a person's blood pressure. After monitoring their eight participants for 16 days, they found that when their subjects experienced prolonged periods of shorter sleep, they also registered substantially higher blood pressure numbers at night. While the size of the study was small, they presented their findings at the American College of Cardiology's 64th Annual Scientific Session in San Diego, California, on March 15.

The eight healthy, normal-weight participants with ages ranging from 19 to 36 experienced a 4-day acclimation period before being split into two groups: one set who slept only four hours each night for nine days, and the other who slept for nine hours each night for those same nine days. They all also completed three days of recovery. Throughout the 16-day period, the researchers monitored each subjects' blood pressure 24 times throughout a daily cycle.

Blood pressure levels naturally rise and fall in a circular pattern throughout the day. They tend to peak in the middle of the afternoon, and reach their lowest points in the middle of the night during one's deep sleep. Now in this study, the sleep-restricted participants registered an average of 115/64 mm Hg during the nighttime while their well-rested counterparts registered an average of 105/57 mm Hg. In addition to confirming that inadequate sleep limited the anticipated decrease in blood pressure with these figures, the experiment revealed a higher nighttime heart rate in sleep-deprived subjects than those who experienced normal sleep.

"We know high blood pressure, particularly during the night, is one of the major risk factors for heart disease, and Americans typically do not get enough sleep," lead author Naima Covassin, Ph.D., said in a statement.

This new study could also further demonstrate why sleep apnea is considered a common contributor to high blood pressure. According to the National Sleep Foundation, this often-undiagnosed sleeping disorder creates pauses in a person's breathing that lead to snoring and restless nights. That resulting decrease in sleep quantity and quality can lead to hypertension and heart disease, as well as possible mood and memory problems.

  • 1 Jimmy Kimmel
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    The TV host told Esquire that he spent every afternoon feeling tired for no reason before he discovered he has narcolepsy. "I would doze off in meetings, watching TV, even driving," he said. "With narcolepsy, just the inside of your head is tired. It's like somebody's gently sitting on your brain. You have almost no focus. All you're thinking about is not falling asleep."

    The brain disorder, which occurs in about one in every 3,000 people, causes "extreme daytime sleepiness and sudden, irresistible bouts of sleep that can strike at any time," according to the National Institutes of Health.
  • 2 Rihanna
    The singer has taken to Twitter on multiple occasions, sending messages that she's having trouble sleeping. After completing a world tour in 2011, she tweeted "Suddenly all the silence is being drowned by my thoughts! No sleep" and later started adding #GOtoSLEEPRobyn to some of her tweets.

    Surfing the web, checking email or tweeting too close to bedtime, however, can send signals to your brain that disrupt the natural bedtime process and make it harder to drift off.
  • 3 George Clooney
    The Oscar-winning actor told The Hollywood Reporter that he has trouble falling asleep without the TV on. "I'm able to numb out," he said about the blue glow.

    While many claim falling asleep to the TV helps them nod off, it can actually disrupt the sleep cycle. Your brain will still listen in on subtle changes in volume, even if you're asleep, Phillip Gehrman, Ph.D., CBSM, clinical director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the University of Pennsylvania told The Huffington Post.

    That could account for Clooney's trouble staying asleep. "Without question, I wake every night five times," he said.
  • 4 Lady Gaga
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    There's no denying the pop star is, at the very least, extremely passionate about what she does. But all that drive has her tossing and turning at night, she told the UK's OK! Magazine in 2010. "My passion is so strong I can't sleep -- I haven't slept for three days," she said. "I lie in bed and try to pray and breathe. I have a very overactive mind. "

    Whether or not she really meant she'd been awake for a solid 72 hours or simply didn't sleep well three nights in a row, sleep deprivation has real consequences. Among the most frightening is a decrease in reaction time, which, if you're driving, could prove deadly.
  • 5 Shaquille O'Neal
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    The basketball giant sat down with Dr. Charles Czeisler, director of the division of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School, who approached him to be a part of a sleep study. O'Neal's girlfriend had been insisting he get tested for sleep apnea, after noticing him snoring and then seemingly stop breathing during the night, she said.

    Sleep apnea, which occurs when someone temporarily stops breathing during sleep, is more common in people who are overweight and/or have thick necks. At 7'1" and 325 pounds, Shaq certainly fits the bill.

    Sleep apnea is often treated with a ventilation therapy known as CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) that requires the snorer to sleep with a Darth Vader-esque mask. Shaq said he planned to wear his every night -- and joked he might wear it out on the town, too.
  • 6 Kevin Jonas
    Nearly a third of American adults snore, which can cause serious problems in a relationship if a light-sleeping partner is constantly woken up.

    Reportedly among the ranks of mismatched sleep partners are musician and actor Kevin Jonas and his wife Danielle, according to In Touch Weekly. A friend of the couple said "Kevin and Danielle had never spent a night together until their wedding night, so she had no clue that he snores so loudly. She loves her husband, but now she sleeps in a guest room when he gets too noisy."

    Snorers can try sleeping on their sides instead of their backs, using a pillow or a tennis ball sewn into a T-shirt to stop them from rolling over.
  • 7 David Ortiz
    During a 2009 slump, the baseball star had only two home runs and 22 RBI. In his previous years with the Red Sox, he had averaged 39 homers and 122 RBI. The slip in his performance affected more than just his stats. "My body is resting every night, but my mind is spinning with all of this [stuff]," he told USA Today. "It's hard to sleep."
  • 8 Sandra Bullock
    After adopting her son, Louis, the Oscar-winning actress drastically cut down on sleep. She told the UK's Now Magazine she was surviving on just three hours a night, but that it wasn't difficult. "I don't want anyone else to have the pleasure of changing [his] diapers but me," she said. "There is nothing hard about loving Louis."

    That may be true, but Bullock's extreme sleep deprivation could actually hurt little Louis. Severely skimping on sleep has been linked with a greater risk of making serious mistakes in doctors, police officers, truckers and others in positions that require long hours. To ensure you're giving little ones the best care, you need to take care of yourself first.
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