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Revealed: Poor Sleep and Blood Pressure Truths

We all know what it feels like to wake up unrested. Groggy, grumpy, and perhaps fighting a headache, our bodies crave coffee or a heavy meal to give us the energy we need to function throughout the day. Unfortunately, a restless night’s sleep leads to more than just a tough morning. Poor sleep might be the very reason that your blood pressure is high. Sleep and blood pressure are more closely linked than you might think.

“Both sleep and sleeplessness, when immoderate, are bad.”

— Hippocrates

Is high blood pressure really a problem?

Nearly one out of every two adults in the United States has hypertension, as defined by a blood pressure at or above 130/80 mm Hg. Could something so common really be that dangerous? The answer is an emphatic, “yes!”

High blood pressure is often deemed the “silent killer,” quietly putting strain on blood vessels and organs without you even being aware until a serious problem develops. High blood pressure causes the heart to work harder. If left untreated, it leads to numerous health complications, including heart disease, kidney failure, stroke, and death. 

The rhythm of blood pressure

The human body functions best when in rhythm with the sun. Derived from the Latin “circa diem,” meaning around or approximately a day, circadian rhythm refers to our body’s 24-hour internal clock. Many of the body’s physiological functions are impacted by this rhythm, including blood pressure. 

Typically, blood pressure rises a few hours before daybreak and increases until it peaks around midday. Then, it begins to drop in the late afternoon and evening, hitting its lowest during nighttime sleep. Healthy individuals experience a 10-20 percent drop in blood pressure at night

Individuals who do not experience at least a 10 percent drop in blood pressure at night are deemed “non-dippers.” These individuals are at higher risk for adverse cardiovascular events

Sleep: The third pillar of health  

Food and exercise are often at the forefront of discussions surrounding heart health. On the other hand, sleep is often viewed as an added luxury rather than another essential ingredient for a healthy lifestyle. The current American lifestyle does not prioritize sleep, which adds to the plethora of chronic health issues plaguing our country. 

Sleep enables our body to repair, restore, and reenergize from a hard day’s work. Conversely, insufficient sleep is linked to obesity, reduced immune function, cognitive deficits, diabetes, depression, and heart disease, just to name a few. 

The science of sleep and blood pressure 

Science has clearly established a link between sleep duration and blood pressure. Studies have shown that individuals who do not get enough sleep are at higher risk of elevated blood pressure. While these risks are cumulative and tend to increase over time, some research indicates that the adverse effects may also be immediate. 

For example, a recent study examined individuals working overtime and found blood pressure and heart rate significantly elevated the day after insufficient sleep compared to the vital signs after a regular night of sleep. 

It’s not just the amount of sleep that’s important — sleep quality also matters. In a 2018 study of 323 females, researchers found that women who experienced minor sleep disturbances had high blood pressure, even if they slept seven to nine hours per night. The scientists also found a relationship between poor sleep quality and increased vascular endothelial inflammation, a risk factor for cardiac disease. 

As is often the case with health, nothing happens in isolation. For example, science has now found a link between sleep, hypertension, and gut health. In a recent study, scientists found that dysfunctional sleep increases blood pressure and impacts the gut microbiome. Bacteria associated with inflammation were detected in the gut a week after the sleep disturbance and did not immediately disappear with restored sleep. 

By now, it should be abundantly clear that sleep impacts blood pressure, but can high blood pressure affect sleep? The answer is not clear. A 2015 study found that individuals who experience insomnia, specifically those who have a hard time falling asleep, have a high risk of hypertension. The researchers did not determine causality but concluded that it was unlikely that high blood pressure caused insomnia. 

How much sleep should I get each night?

Sleep recommendations are not cut and dry. The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep each night for adults. However, a 2021 study found that individuals who clocked anywhere from six to seven hours of sleep had the lowest chance of dying from a heart attack or stroke compared to those who got less or more sleep. 

What scientists do agree upon, however, is that too little or too much sleep negatively impacts heart health — poor sleep does affect blood pressure. Finding the sweet spot in terms of length of sleep will be different for everyone. 

More important than sleep duration is sleep quality. A recent study concluded that those with the healthiest sleep patterns had a 42 percent lower heart failure risk than those with poor sleep hygiene. 

Researchers looked at factors such as sleep duration, snoring, insomnia, daytime sleepiness, and when the individual fell asleep and woke up. The overall picture of sleep is more important than one specific factor. 

5 ways to get the best sleep possible 

Let the sun be your guide

Our ancient ancestors went to bed at sundown and rose with the sunrise. In today’s society, this is much more challenging to do. Modern life often interferes with the natural production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates our sleep/wake cycle. 

Melatonin secretion follows the sun, increasing production at night and dropping during the daylight hours. However, nighttime exposure to screens can confuse this process, interfering with melatonin production. 

As much as possible, wake with the sun. Watch the sunrise without glasses or contacts. Turn off electronics at dusk and wear blue light filtering glasses after sundown. Waking and sleeping with the sun reduces stress on the body and allows it to function according to its innate circadian rhythm. In addition, maintaining a routine sets the body up for restorative sleep, which can help prevent high blood pressure. 

Create a sleep sanctuary 

Your bedroom should be a place of relaxation. Sleeping in a calming space can lower cortisol levels and help keep blood pressure down. Create a stress-free environment by keeping work and electronics out of the bedroom. The last thing you want to do is watch the news from your bed. 

Dim the lights in your room before bedtime and set the temperature between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit. Our body’s temperature naturally decreases at night with our circadian rhythm, and a cool environment induces sleep. 

Sleeping in a dark room is essential, so invest in black-out curtains if street lights or headlights could impact your rest. Eliminate night lights and glowing clocks. If you are a light sleeper, invest in a soothing sound machine to drown out extraneous noise. 

Address underlying health issues

For some, quality sleep is desired but difficult to achieve. Underlying health issues such as obstructive sleep apnea, chronic pain, heartburn, or anxiety contribute to sleep challenges. Addressing the root cause of your sleep disturbances will increase your chances of a restful night. 

Lifestyle changes that can enhance underlying health issues include: 

If you aren’t sure if you are getting quality sleep, consider an at-home sleep test. Gone are the days of an overnight stay in the hospital. Now, you can use a one-time device that collects your sleep information and sends it virtually to a sleep specialist for an in-depth assessment of your sleep. 

Establish a soothing sleep ritual 

Just as babies love a sleep routine, so do adults. Establishing a consistent sleep routine and schedule will help prepare your body to know what’s next. Perhaps a warm bath with Epsom salt followed by diffused lavender does the trick. Some enjoy a warm herbal tea and a book. 

Whatever your preference, try to start and end your routine around the same time each night. In this way, you will be working with your internal clock to help set the tone for a restful and rejuvenating night. 

Eliminate electrosmog at night  

We are bombarded with electromagnetic frequency (EMF) everywhere we go. WiFi and Bluetooth are coming at us in all directions. Even when your WiFi is not in use, it emits EMF radiation through constant radio frequencies. 

Nighttime may be your only break from EMF radiation. Not only does exposure to WiFi signals disrupt sleep, but it also impacts the cardiovascular system, disrupting blood pressure and heart rhythm. 

Minimize smart devices in your home, turn off WiFi at night, and ensure that your cell phone is in airplane mode while you sleep. 

Sleep: the magic supplement

If someone told you that there was a magic pill that could improve blood pressure without any side effects whatsoever, would you take it? Now, imagine if I told you that this pill was free and available to everyone. You might think it’s too good to be true, but it’s not! Sleep is an incredible remedy for high blood pressure. It’s safe, free, and available for all to enjoy.

Next steps

Prioritize quality sleep. It may just save your life. Develop lifestyle habits that support a great sleep routine to protect your heart and your overall well-being.

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Medical Review 2022: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD

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