Effects of sleep on blood pressure
We all know that we get grumpy and irritable when we’re not getting enough sleep (okay, I do anyway). But the effects of not getting adequate sleep can be more subtle than that.
For example, did you know that how much sleep you get – and how well you sleep – can affect your blood pressure?
The effects of sleep on blood pressure
The effects of sleep on blood pressure can be quite profound. In fact, several studies over the past decade have found a link between poor sleep quality and quantity and higher blood pressure.
For example, one study that followed hundreds of early-middle-aged people for six years found that when they got less sleep (less than 7 or 8 hours), or didn’t sleep well, they were more likely to have higher blood pressure. Their statistics showed that roughly each hour of sleep that was ‘missed’ equated to a third greater risk of having high blood pressure.
Other studies have found similar effects. There are many factors responsible for the effects of sleep on blood pressure. For one thing, sleep is important for processing stress hormones. So not getting enough good sleep can lead to lingering high levels of stress hormones, which can increase inflammation in the body (which is implicated in high blood pressure and many other health problems), and narrow the arteries, increasing blood pressure.
(UPDATE, April 2016: A study at the University of Helsinki, Finland, has found that insufficient sleep also affects cholesterol metabolism, resulting in lower levels of high-density lipoproteins (the “good” cholesterol that your body needs). This explains why even mild sleep deprivation is associated with higher risk of cardiovascular disease, including atherosclerosis.)
As well as the effects of sleep on blood pressure, not enough good sleep is also linked with greater risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, as well as cancer, depression, and memory and concentration problems. So it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough.
How much sleep do I need?
Scientists generally consider that 7-8 hours a night of sleep is what most people need for our bodies to do all the things they need to do during sleep.
Even if you know you can manage on less sleep, your body may not be coping as well as you think, and adverse effects on your health can quietly be building up.
However, the effects of sleep on blood pressure are not just to do with how much we sleep but also when we sleep.
When we sleep – and its effects on blood pressure
Our body clocks, over millennia, are ‘programmed’ for sleeping at night, during hours of darkness. However, our society and working culture tends to place different demands on us, such that many of us now find it difficult to go to bed after sunset and wake with the dawn.
Having a good ‘power nap’ during the day can certainly help, but napping or sleeping at other times isn’t enough to compensate for lack of sleep at night.
Shift workers are most obviously affected, but any of us who find ourselves too busy or stressed to unwind and get a good night’s sleep are potentially placing a great strain on our body.
In fact, scientists are becoming extremely concerned with the increasing restrictions on sleep that modern society places on us, and the effects of sleep on blood pressure that result.
Scientists from Harvard University in the US, and Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester and Surrey Universities in the UK recently went so far as to warn that our society is “supremely arrogant” when it comes to dismissing the importance of sleep.
Screen dreams – or nightmares?
Another issue affecting our sleep in recent years is the prevalance of brightly lit screens in our lives – computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc.
Light is what synchronises our body clock, so light at night can disrupt our natural sleep cycle. The problem is that the type of light that our electronic devices emit (in the blue end of the light spectrum) is exactly the kind of light that will disrupt our body clock. Energy-efficient light bulbs can have a similar effect.
According to Prof Charles Czeisler, from Harvard University, “Light exposure, especially short wavelength blue-ish light in the evening, will reset our circadian rhythms to a later hour, postponing the release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin and making it more difficult for us to get up in the morning.
“It’s a big concern that we’re being exposed to much more light, sleeping less and, as a consequence, may suffer from many chronic diseases.”
Can I reduce the effects of sleep on blood pressure?
The effects of sleep on blood pressure are biological, so there’s not much you can do to change the actual effects of sleep on blood pressure.
However, as we’ve seen, how much you sleep, how you sleep and when you sleep can be seriously affected by our lifestyles – so if you make a few changes, you can give yourself a good chance of getting better sleep and thus make sure the effects of sleep on blood pressure are good effects!
UPDATE: Research now shows that having a noontime nap is linked with lower blood pressure, and that this can help compensate for not getting enough sleep at night. So if you can make time for a little siesta, do so. More details here: how a nap can lower your blood pressure
How to get a good night’s sleep
So what can you do? Well, one of the most important things is to establish a regular rhythm as to when you go to bed and get up. This helps your body regulate itself effectively, and get into a good sleeping pattern.
Another thing is to look at your sleeping conditions. Having your room well-aired, and not too hot or too cold, and as dark as possible, and of course quiet, all go a long way to helping you settle into deep sleep once you do fall asleep.
You can also take a look at how you spend your evening, particularly the last hour or two before bed. Avoid alcohol, nicotine (and of course, caffeine), and big meals too close to bedtime as these can keep you up or lead to unsettled sleep. A cup of relaxing herbal tea can help you unwind instead. And it can be helpful to get into a nice routine before, or as, you get ready for bed, to help you gradually switch off from your concerns and get in the mood for sleep.
And last, but absolutely not least – turn off your laptops, smartphones, iPads etc., well before you go to bed – most scientists recommend having at least one hour before bed that’s screen-free. As one scientist, Dr Lipman, puts it, have “an electronic sundown.” You’ll probably find this makes it easier for your mind to wind down before bed as well.
And your body will certainly thank you.
More ways to lower your blood pressure naturally
You can find out a lot more about how to get yourself into a good regular sleeping pattern in our guide:
Step 9 of the guide looks at the effects of sleep on blood pressure. However, there are many other factors (like diet, fitness and stress) that affect your blood pressure.
So if you want to lower your blood pressure (without having to take blood pressure-lowering medications), the best way is to apply a broad approach, using natural home-based remedies to cover all possible causes.
This guide will help you do that. It contains simple and proven strategies to lower your blood pressure and keep it low through easy, effective and enjoyable changes in lifestyle.
It takes you through these in nine easy-to-follow steps. These progressive steps are based on the principle that positive incremental change is always best in health matters, and each chapter will take you further along the road of greater vigour and peace of mind (and a healthy blood pressure).
Choose between a wide range of delicious foods that reduce your blood pressure. Include a number of mental and physical exercises in your schedule for both relaxation and invigoration (including plenty tips on sleeping soundly).
To download a sample of the guide to your computer right now click here and scroll to the bottom of the page for the download link.
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Post by Alison. (Image credit: peasap via flickr.com)