Can Sleep Deprivation Cause High Blood Pressure?

Even small deficits in your sleep can lead to big health consequences. Learn how sleep deprivation influences high blood pressure and what you can do about it.

By Andrea Pisani Babich

Your cheery disposition is not the only thing in jeopardy when you don’t get enough sleep. Studies have consistently shown that sleep deprivation increases blood pressure and puts you at risk for developing chronic high blood pressure. High blood pressure can lead to life threatening conditions such as:

  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Aneurysms
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Dementia
  • Kidney failure

Other less serious disorders resulting from high blood pressure include:

  • Damage to blood vessels in the eye
  • Optic nerve damage
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Bone loss
  • Trouble sleeping

The Connection Between Sleep Deprivation and High Blood Pressure

Doctor using sphygmomanometer with stethoscope checking blood pressure to a patient in the hospital.

According to a recent long-term study of men in Russia, men who regularly slept poorly faced a much higher risk of heart attack and stroke, two debilitating and potentially deadly events that are directly associated with high blood pressure. In this study, researchers concluded that participants faced two and a half times the risk of heart attack and as much as four times the risk of stroke compared to men who regularly got a full night’s sleep.

Many other studies have demonstrated the effect of sleep deprivation on blood pressure itself. All concluded that insufficient sleep led directly to increased blood pressure. One study showed an increase in blood pressure and heart rate the morning after just one night of insufficient sleep. Increased levels of norepinephrine in study participants’ urine suggests that the increase in blood pressure after a night of sleep deprivation is caused, at least in part, by activation of the “fight-or-flight” response.

Apparently, your body senses the stress of the sleep deprivation and goes into fight-or-flight mode, a response that humans evolved to help them escape or endure times of trouble. In other words, sleep helps to regulate your stress hormones, which left unchecked, can raise your blood pressure.

Sleep Disorders Jeopardize Your Health

These conclusions suggest just how serious sleep disorders can be to your health. Conditions like restless leg syndrome and obstructive sleep apnea that keep you from regularly getting the amount of sleep that you need can put you at risk for developing high blood pressure and increase your risk of suffering cardiovascular disease. Other sleep disorders that increase your risk of developing hypertension include:

Not to mention the 24/7 connectivity of the 21st century. Cell phones, subscription streaming services, and social media have become inescapable and addictive resources that not only lure us away from sleep but also cause physiological changes in our brains that tell it to stay alert. Your late-night binging on Game of Thrones or catching up on Instagram is literally robbing you of sleep and putting your health at risk.

High Blood Pressure – The Silent Killer

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, refers to a condition in which the pressure of your blood in your arteries is higher than it should be. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) with two numbers, the systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number). Normal blood pressure is below 120/80 mm Hg. High blood pressure (HBP) is 130 systolic or higher, or 80 diastolic or higher, that remains near these levels over time.

Hypertension is particularly dangerous because it has no symptoms. The only way to know if your pressure is elevated it is to have it checked by a healthcare provider. So even though you may not know it, you may have this serious condition and, as a result, face an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and other life-threatening conditions.

When Sleeping Too Little Creates Big Problems

It doesn’t take extreme sleep deprivation to increase your risk of these conditions. Unless you are trying to break a Guinness World Record, you are probably not staying awake for 264 hours. But plenty of people get five to six hours of sleep night after night, which experts agree is insufficient. In fact, results of a survey taken in 2017 indicate that as many as one-third of people in the United States sleep less than six hours each night with Hispanics, African-Americans, and women suffering more sleep problems than others. Are you one of them? If so, your sleep deficit puts you at a higher risk of high blood pressure than those who sleep the recommended seven to nine hours.

Managing Hypertension

Luckily, many people are able to control their high blood pressure. There are several steps you can take before you need to resort to medication. First off, get the sleep you need. Here’s how.

Improve your sleep hygiene. Regularly getting seven to nine hours of sleep each night can go a long way to improving your health and well-being overall as well as lowering your blood pressure or keeping high blood pressure at bay. Here are some tips for getting the sleep you need every night.

  • Go to bed and rise at the same time every day.
  • Invest in the right mattress for your body type and sleep preference.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol.
  • Spray essential oils on your pillow and sheets or diffuse them.
  • Ban electronic devices from your bedroom.
  • Establish a soothing bedtime routine and stick to it.
  • Lower your bedroom temperature to 67°.

Improve your diet. A diet that is low in saturated and trans fats and rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products can help lower your HBP. Lowering your sodium intake can also help. Aim for less than 1,500mg of salt per day. Increase your potassium intake by eating these potassium-rich foods:

  • avocados
  • sweet potatoes
  • spinach
  • watermelon
  • coconut water
  • black and white beans
  • edamame
  • tomato paste
  • butternut squash
  • potatoes
  • dried apricots
  • swiss chard
  • beets
  • pomegranate

Get plenty of exercise. Stay physically active or start an exercise program. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, healthy adults should engage in moderate intensity aerobic activity for at least 150 to 300 minutes a week of, or 75 to 150 minutes a week of high intensity aerobic activity.

Take your meds. If your doctor prescribes it, be sure to take your blood pressure medicine as prescribed.


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