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Poor sleep risky for raising blood pressure

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

For older men, and probably women, sleeping poorly can "significantly" raise the chances of developing high blood pressure, find researchers. Waking up at night and failure to fall into a deep sleep is linked to a variety of health problems including diabetes and weigh gain. In a new study, scientists found poor sleep quality raises the risk of developing high blood pressure by 80 percent.

Blood pressure creeps up with reduced slow wave sleep

In the Sleep Disorders in Older Men Study (MrOs Sleep Study), scientists measured sleep waves in older men with reduced slow wave sleep (SWS) were more likely to develop high blood pressure during the 3.4 year investigation.

"Our study shows for the first time that poor quality sleep, reflected by reduced slow wave sleep, puts individuals at significantly increased risk of developing high blood pressure, and that this effect appears to be independent of the influence of breathing pauses during sleep," said Susan Redline, M.D., the study's co-author and Peter C. Farrell Professor of Sleep Medicine in the Department of Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School in Boston, Mass.

Though the study, published in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association, included just men, the researchers say it’s likely that women who sleep poorly are also at risk for high blood pressure.

For the study, researchers measured a variety of sleep disturbances in healthy 784 men without hypertension, including pauses in breathing, sleep duration, number of time the men awakened and time spent in each sleep state.

The men, average age 75, were studied in their own homes with sleep monitoring devices. Sleep quality was determined by electroencephalogram which measures brain wave activity indicative of SWS.

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Older men and women are more likely to have high blood pressure, compared to younger people, explain the researchers. They are also more likely to have poor sleep quality and suffer from obesity that also contributes to sleep disturbances.

Participants who spent less than 4 percent of the time in slow wave sleep or lack of non-rapid eye movement (REM) deep sleep were more likely to develop hypertension.

In the cohort Sleep Heart Health Study, the scientists also discovered men are more likely than women to experience interrupted, light sleep.

Redline emphasizes the importance of getting a good night’s sleep for overall health and well-being.

"People should recognize that sleep, diet and physical activity are critical to health, including heart health and optimal blood pressure control. Although the elderly often have poor sleep, our study shows that such a finding is not benign.”

Redline adds novel initiatives could be developed to help older adults sleep better, which in turn would reduce the burden of high blood pressure that leads to stroke, heart disease, higher medical costs and decreased quality of life.

Hypertension: doi: 10.1161/​HYPERTENSIONAHA.111.174409
"Decreased Slow Wave Sleep Increases Risk of Developing Hypertension in Elderly Men"
Maple M. Fung et al.
August 29, 2011

Image credit: Morguefile