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Lack of sleep linked to high blood pressure

Better get those Zzzzs. Particularly if you’re middle-aged.

A study published today in the Archives of Internal Medicine reports that young (under 50) middle-aged people who short-change themselves on sleep are more likely to develop high blood pressure.

This is a worrisome finding, given that many of us are chronically sleep-deprived. Although experts recommend that we get seven to nine hours of sleep nightly, we frequently don’t. A 2008 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that almost one-third of us slumber for six hours or less on most nights.

The finding is also worrisome, of course, because of the health risks associated with high blood pressure. According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure contributes annually to more than 2.4 million deaths in the United States.

Interestingly, one in three Americans has high blood pressure — about the same percentage that is sleep-deprived.

The study
The current study, conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago, followed 578 adults (aged 33 to 45 when the study began) for five years. Participants self-reported how much they slept, but just to make sure those reports were accurate, the researchers twice had participants wear a wrist sensor for three days. The device records when people are active and resting.

The study’s participants didn’t get much rest — on average, only six hours of sleep per night. In fact, only seven of the people in the study (1 percent) averaged eight or more hours of sleep.

That lack of sleep seems to have carried a hefty health price tag: Participants who slept fewer hours had significantly higher blood pressure at the end of the study. In fact, for each “lost” hour of sleep, the chances of developing high blood pressure increased by 37 percent.

People in particular peril
The study made two additional intriguing discoveries. First, African-American men slept much less (an average of 5.2 hours) than others in the study — and they also had the highest blood pressure. Poor sleep may then partly explain the higher BP many other studies have documented in African-American men, the study’s authors suggested.

The study also revealed that women (but not men) who snore frequently are more likely to develop high blood pressure. The study’s authors aren’t sure why this would be so, but they suggest it may be because women who report frequent snoring have more severe sleep apnea (a sleep disorder that causes pauses in breathing) than do men. Sleep apnea is a risk factor for high blood pressure.

Something to sleep on?

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by dan buechler on 06/08/2009 - 04:49 pm.

    You are one busy writer. Keep it up!

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/09/2009 - 08:38 am.

    How did the researchers control for non-sleep effects? You seem to be concluding that sleep is affecting blood pressure, you have to control for the possibility that blood pressure is affecting sleep. We know that stress, work load, and anxiety affect sleep and raise blood pressure. It could well be that the reason high BP subjects slept less was that they are experiencing more sleep interfering stressors. How did the researchers control for the possibility that poor sleep was an artifact of known causes of high BP rather than a cause of high BP? Black men for instance have higher rates of high BP to begin with, sleep notwithstanding.

  3. Submitted by Sheila Ehrich on 06/09/2009 - 12:05 pm.

    Did the study control for the effects of perimenopause? This is a time of life when many women start loosing sleep and it’s difficult to make it up.

  4. Submitted by dan buechler on 06/09/2009 - 02:41 pm.

    There are readers who probably would like to comment on your health blog but won’t because they would like more anonymity when writing about personal health matters.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/10/2009 - 09:55 am.

    I would resist the temptation to allow anonymity. No one should be seeking personal medical advice in a venue like this in the first place, and I for one am not interested in reading about anyone’s personal medical issues. I think there’s a danger of creating a venue for people to simply to talk about themselves, there are plenty of other places to do that. One can always frame a question or comment without referencing personal issues. You can ask a question about colonoscopies for instance without placing it in the context of personal experience, you just have to spend a few seconds thinking about how to write it.

    I think in general the fact that Minnpost requires a real name produces higher quality exchanges.

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