All data demonstrates that hypertension is almost unavoidable as we age, and once we reach the age of 55, we have a 90 per cent chance of becoming hypertensive. However that inevitability doesn’t mean we can’t do something about it. Step one is to modify your lifestyle: lose weight, exercise, and eat a wholesome diet – but there are other factors.
What causes high blood pressure? The first culprits that pop into your mind are likely to be: eating too much salt, being stressed out all the time, and alcohol abuse. And you would be right. But there are also less obvious causes of high blood pressure, a condition that affects about one in three, or 78 million, adults in the U.S, and 15 million adults in the UK.
Sleep apnoea is one of these, and a common disorder that often goes undiagnosed, and leads to snoring, restless nights and possibly, elevated blood pressure. That’s because when your breathing is interrupted, the oxygen level in your body falls. Your brain then sends signals through your nervous system to increase the flow of oxygen to the heart and brain, thereby tightening up your blood vessels. Frequent drops in your blood oxygen level, along with reduced quality of sleep, can also trigger the release of stress hormones, which raise your heart rate and increase your risk for high blood pressure.
More than 45 per cent of Americans snore, and over 40 per cent of British adults do the same according to recent studies. Doctors, however say the common problem can be more than just a nuisance.
Recent research recently set out to find how reduced sleep quantity and quality could affect a person’s blood pressure. After monitoring their adult participants for 16 days, they found that when their subjects experienced prolonged periods of shorter sleep, they also registered substantially higher blood pressure numbers at night. While the size of the study was small, they presented their findings at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session in San Diego, California, on March 15th this year.
The healthy, normal-weight participants with ages ranging from 19 to 36 experienced a 4-day adjustment period before being split into two groups: one set who slept only four hours each night for nine days, and the other who slept for nine hours each night for those same nine days. They all also completed three days of recovery. Throughout the 16 days, the researchers monitored each subjects’ blood pressure 24 times throughout a daily cycle
Blood pressure levels naturally rise and fall in a circular pattern throughout the day. They tend to peak in the middle of the afternoon, and reach their lowest points in the middle of the night during one’s deep sleep. Now in this study, the sleep-restricted participants registered an average of 115/64 mm Hg during the night while their well-rested counterparts registered an average of 105/57 mm Hg. In addition to confirming that inadequate sleep limited the anticipated decrease in blood pressure with these figures, the experiment revealed a higher night-time heart rate in sleep-deprived subjects than those who experienced normal sleep.
We know that high blood pressure, particularly during the night, is one of the major risk factors for heart disease, and British and American adults typically do not get enough sleep.
This new study could also further demonstrate why sleep apnea is always considered a common contributor to high blood pressure. According to the National Sleep Foundation, this often-undiagnosed sleeping disorder creates pauses in a person’s breathing that lead to snoring and restless nights. That resulting decrease in sleep quantity and quality can lead to hypertension and heart disease, as well as possible mood and memory problems.
In the mild to moderate cases, patients are recommended to use quality bespoke oral appliances that are medically approved. These improve breathing and in doing so prevent the occurrence of apneas, and even reverse some issues already caused.