TUCSON, Ariz. — Tossing and turning all night may not be more than just miserable for the mind. According to new research from the University of Arizona, poor sleep may also lead to higher blood pressure the next day.
Although sleep problems have long been linked to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and death, the connection between sleep and cardiovascular health has not been well understood.
“Blood pressure is one of the best predictors of cardiovascular health,” says lead study author Caroline Doyle, a graduate student in the university’s Department of Psychology, in a university release. “There is a lot of literature out there that shows sleep has some kind of impact on mortality and on cardiovascular disease, which is the No. 1 killer of people in the country. We wanted to see if we could try to get a piece of that story – how sleep might be impacting disease through blood pressure.”
Because cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, the research team wanted to dig deeper into the relationship between poor sleep and blood pressure changes.
For the study, 300 men and women, ages 21 to 70, were asked to wear portable blood pressure cuffs for two consecutive days, including overnight. The participants had no history of heart problems.
The cuffs measured blood pressure throughout the day and night at 45-minute intervals. Participants also wore actigraphy monitors on their wrists at night to measure overnight movements. These monitors provided information about quality sleep time.
Researchers reviewed the results and found that participants who slept poorly experienced higher blood pressure during the night. These same participants also had higher systolic blood pressure on the following day.
The authors believe their findings are an important clue in understanding the connection between sleep and cardiovascular health, but want to see more research undertaken to explain why poor sleep elevates blood pressure and how this might impact those with chronic sleep problems.
Researchers stress that the study findings prove once again the importance of a good night’s sleep. They recommend that people make proactive changes before going to bed, such as placing phones in another room. For those with chronic sleep issues, study authors advocate cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia.
“This study stands on the shoulders of a broad literature looking at sleep and cardiovascular health,” Doyle says. “This is one more study that shows something is going on with sleep and our heart health. Sleep is important, so whatever you can do to improve your sleep, it’s worth prioritizing,” she concludes.
The study is published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.