Sleep Quality and Hypertension
People with high blood pressure (hypertension) should pay special attention to their sleep quality. Although the precise link between sleep and hypertension remains unclear, research shows that a lack of sleep or disrupted sleep can cause high blood pressure or make it worse. In fact, getting fewer than six hours of sleep per night increases your risk of developing high blood pressure. And if you already have hypertension, poor sleep quality might make it worse. While focusing on dietary changes to lower your blood pressure is essential, you also should focus on your sleep duration and quality to create a positive impact on your hypertension.
Several types of sleep issues can cause hypertension or make it harder to control. The most common sleep problems that affect blood pressure include:
- Insomnia: the inability to fall asleep, stay asleep, and get restorative sleep may contribute to hypertension
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): intermittent episodes of halted breathing during sleep correlate highly with hypertension
- Restless leg syndrome (RLS): some relationship between RLS and high blood pressure may exist, though the data conflict
- Sleep deprivation: getting fewer than six hours of sleep per night correlates with an increased risk of developing high blood pressure
The link between clinical insomnia, RLS, and hypertension remains unproven. But if you have been diagnosed with hypertension and OSA, or if you have high blood pressure and experience sleep deprivation, you can take steps to address these underlying issues to perhaps help you control your blood pressure better.
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the soft tissues at the back of the throat relax and block the airway during sleep. Researchers think these pauses in nighttime oxygenation may activate the body’s fight-or-flight mechanism, which raises the blood pressure. Interestingly, however, the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices to maintain nighttime breathing do not necessarily improve hypertension in people with both sleep apnea and high blood pressure. Nonetheless, if you have both OSA and hypertension you should adhere to the treatment plan for improving your sleep apnea, as this may have a positive effect on your blood pressure.
Many studies, involving hundreds of thousands of adults around the world, have confirmed a link between short sleep duration and high blood pressure. Why sleep duration affects blood pressure remains something of a mystery. It’s possible the body requires a long sleep duration to adequately manage certain hormone levels that contribute to blood pressure control. Whatever the reason, the evidence suggests that habitually sleeping fewer than six hours per night raises your risk of developing hypertension.
You’ll find greatly conflicting expert opinions on how (or whether) your sleeping position contributes to high blood pressure. If you have been diagnosed with hypertension, ask your doctor for advice on which sleeping position might be best for you. People with sleep apnea should avoid sleeping on their back, as this position promotes airway blockage and may, therefore, cause blood pressure to rise. For others, the best sleep posture for high blood pressure might be the one that allows you to get seven-plus hours of restorative sleep each night.