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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Lack of Sleep Linked to Hypertension

By Larissa Long

It’s no secret that sleep is important. Getting enough shut-eye every night improves memory, boosts immunity, rejuvenates and repairs the nervous system and prevents various health conditions such as diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure (or hypertension).

Hypertension is one of the most concerning consequences of sleep deprivation. Nicknamed the “silent killer” because it presents no outward symptoms, hypertension greatly increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, stroke, heart failure, kidney damage and even blindness.

It’s thought that lack of sleep—especially less than six hours per night—can affect the body’s ability to regulate stress hormones, which could contribute to high blood pressure.

A recently published review of existing research on the link between sleep and blood pressure has also found that “disruptions in the timing and duration of sleep could also disrupt circadian rhythmicity and autonomic balance, which can increase the prevalence of the non-dipping pattern, disturb diurnal rhythm of cardiac output, and increase blood pressure variability.”1

A non-dipping blood pressure pattern means blood pressure fails to fall by 10 percent or more during sleep. Incidentally, not only does disrupted and/or lack of sleep increase this non-dipping pattern, but research has also shown that having a non-dipping pattern leads to poorer quality sleep in hypertensive patients in addition to normotensive people.2 (Talk about a full-circle problem!)

The researchers stated that the association between sleep duration and blood pressure should lead doctors to address sleep quality as “effective primary, secondary and tertiary preventive measures for hypertension.”

Improve Your Sleep Naturally
As critical as it is for good health, getting the quality and quantity of sleep we need can sometimes be challenging. But here are some ways to do just that:
  • Boost your melatonin. This hormone governs sleep and wake cycles and influences body temperature as well as hunger and mood. Darkness signals the release of melatonin. As levels rise, drowsiness sets in. Production of the hormone continues throughout the night, then starts to wane as morning approaches. Modern conveniences are not friendly to our circadian rhythms. As nighttime sets in, we tend to turn on the lights and sit in front of bright televisions and computers. This dramatically decreases the body’s secretion of melatonin, affecting the ability to fall asleep. Additionally, levels of this hormone start to decline around age 40, and insomnia and disturbed sleep become more common as we age.
    Fortunately, melatonin is readily available in supplement form. Research shows that taking supplemental melatonin “decreases sleep onset latency, increases total sleep time and improves overall sleep quality.”3 You can find melatonin at most drugstores, vitamin retailers and online. Take 1-3 mg about 30 minutes to one hour before bedtime.
  • Take valerian (Valeriana officinalis), an herb used since the 1800s to promote sleep. One meta-analysis concluded that it may have a positive effect on mild to moderate insomnia.4 Additional research found that a valerian/lemon balm blend assisted in reducing sleep problems associated with menopause.5 Take up to 500 mg about 30 minutes before bedtime.
  • Arrange your bedroom so that it is as dark as possible. This may mean getting blackout blinds or thick curtains to completely block out any outdoor light, getting rid of your nightlight and covering up or removing your alarm clock and any other light-emitting electronics.
  • If at all possible, limit your exposure to electronics during evening hours. And if you wake up in the middle of the night, do not turn on a light or check your computer, phone, tablet or other electronic device. Research has linked exposure to blue light from computer monitors with significantly reduced melatonin concentrations.6
  • Start a regular exercise program. Exercise enhances sleep in almost everyone, but particularly in those who already have sleep problems.
In conclusion, if you have prehypertension or high blood pressure, take a serious look at your sleep habits and patterns. If you find that you aren’t getting the quality or quantity of sleep you need (and deserve!), take whatever steps necessary to solve this problem. Also keep in mind, there are a number of supplements you can take to help support healthier blood pressure, including coenzyme Q10, magnesium and fish oil.

  1. Gangwisch JE. Am J Hypertens.2014 Apr 28. [Epub ahead of print.]
  2. Ulu SM, et al. Blood Press Monit. 2013 Aug;18(4):183-7.
  3. Ferracioli-Oda E, et al. PLoS One. 2013 May 17;8(5):e63773.
  4. Nunes A and Sousa M. Acta Med Port. 2011 Dec;24 Suppl 4:961-6.
  5. Taavoni S, et al. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2013 Nov;19(4):193-6.
  6. Figueiro MC, et al. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2011;32(2):158-63.