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Lack of sleep linked to high blood pressure

Better get those Zzzzs.

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?