Our sleep has far-reaching effects on our health and sleep disorders can cause various health problems. According to a new study, high blood pressure can also be a possible consequence – at least in women.
A research team from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health examined the connection between sleep problems and high blood pressure using data from more than 60,000 women. The results are published in the specialist magazine “Hypertension”.
Relationship between sleep and blood pressure
Previous studies have already provided evidence of a possible connection between high blood pressure and an irregular sleep rhythm, and sleep disorders are also suspected as a risk factor for hypertension.
The US research team therefore used data from 66,122 participants between the ages of 25 and 42 from the Nurses’ Health Study II to examine the extent to which there is a connection between sleep duration, existing sleep disorders and the risk of high blood pressure.
All participants did not suffer from hypertension at the start of the study and their blood pressure status was determined every two years over a period of 16 years. The researchers also recorded factors such as age, body mass index (BMI), diet and lifestyle, as well as cases of high blood pressure in the family.
The first measurement of sleep duration began in 2001 and was repeated in 2009, recording the average number of hours slept over a 24-hour period, the researchers report.
In addition, the research team conducted surveys several times during the study period to determine the participants’ sleep problems, such as difficulty falling asleep and waking up at night or early in the morning.
Short sleep increases the risk of hypertension
A total of 25,987 women developed high blood pressure during the study period, with women who slept less than seven to eight hours per night being at a significantly increased risk, according to the experts.
In addition, women who had difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep also had a higher risk of the disease, while waking up early in the morning was not associated with an increased risk, according to the research team.
“These results suggest that individuals struggling with symptoms of insomnia are at increased risk of high blood pressure and may benefit from preventative screening,” concludes study author Dr. Shahab Haghayegh from Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
It might be advisable to take a blood pressure measurement for people with sleep disorders in order to detect high blood pressure as early as possible. “The earlier we can identify and treat people with high blood pressure, the better we can prevent future health problems,” said Dr. Haghayegh.
The basis of the connection is unclear
Although the basis of the connection between sleep and high blood pressure risk remains unclear, researchers suspect that sleep disorders could lead to a chain of events that increase sodium retention, arterial stiffness and cardiac output, potentially leading to high blood pressure.
Disturbances in the sleep-wake cycle could also influence the constriction/relaxation activity of the blood vessels and the function of the cells that regulate vascular tone, the experts add.
The causes of the connection between hypertension and sleep problems now need to be examined in further studies, as well as the question of whether a comparable connection exists in men. (fp)