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New research suggests that sleeping less than seven hours a night may increase the risk of high blood pressure, especially for females. JulPo/Getty Images
  • Sleeping fewer than seven hours increases the risk of high blood pressure.
  • Also, sleeping fewer than five hours increases your risk even more.
  • Females sleeping fewer than seven hours have a greater increase in risk than males.
  • Inadequate sleep might cause high blood pressure by increasing certain hormones.
  • To decrease your risk, it is important to practice good sleep hygiene.

According to a study due to be presented at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session, which is being held in Atlanta from April 6-8, 2024, sleeping fewer than seven hours is linked to being at greater risk for high blood pressure.

The researchers also found that the risk was even higher for people who slept fewer than five hours.

The principal investigator on the study, Kaveh Hosseini, MD, further noted in a press release that the risk of hypertension was greater for females than males.

However, they were not certain whether this would actually make a difference in how patients are treated.

An association between sleep patterns and high blood pressure has previously been observed, according to the study authors.

To further elucidate this relationship, they pooled data from 16 studies done between January 2000 and May 2023.

These studies included over 1 million people from six countries who had no history of high blood pressure.

People were followed up on average for five years, although the follow-up periods ranged from 2.4 to 18 years.

After adjusting for other factors that can influence the risk of developing high blood pressure — such as smoking, BMI (body mass index), and age — a short sleep duration of less than seven hours was associated with a 7% higher risk of developing the condition.

Additionally, sleeping fewer than five hours strengthened this link, increasing the risk by 11%.

While the scientists did see an association between sleeping longer and high blood pressure, they did not find this to be statistically significant, meaning that it could simply have occurred by chance.

They also did not find any differences based on age. However, they did find that females who slept fewer than seven hours had a 7% greater risk than males.

The study authors did note that the study has several limitations, including the fact that sleep duration was self-reported, so it was not possible to see how sleep duration changed throughout the follow-up.

There were also variations in how short sleep duration was defined in various studies, with some saying fewer than five hours and some saying fewer than six.

Kubanych Takyrbashev, MD, Health & Wellness Advisor at NAO, who was not involved in the study, pointed to three ways in which sleep can potentially impact blood pressure: sympathetic nervous system activation, hormonal imbalance, and inflammation.

“When we don’t get enough sleep, our body perceives it as a stressor, triggering an increase in the activity of the sympathetic nervous system,” he said.

“This system is responsible for the ‘fight or flight’ response, and its activation leads to the release of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.”

According to Takyrbashev, these hormones can increase heart rate and tighten blood vessels. This creates greater resistance to blood flow and raises blood pressure.

Inadequate sleep can also create hormonal imbalance, he explained.

Renin and aldosterone, the hormones that help regulate fluid and electrolyte balance, can become dysregulated, causing sodium to rise. This additional sodium leads to fluid retention, which can contribute to elevated blood pressure.

“Additionally, leptin, which regulates appetite and energy, is disrupted, leading to cravings and weight gain changes,” explained Takyrbashev. Weight gain is linked to high blood pressure.

Finally, chronic sleep deprivation is associated with increased inflammation. According to Takyrbashev, chronic inflammation damages the endothelial lining of blood vessels, making them vulnerable to plaque accumulation. This leads to narrower arteries which can restrict blood flow, causing blood pressure to rise.

“Inflammation can also affect kidney function, which is critical in regulating blood pressure,” said Takyrbashev.

Ian M. Greenlund, PhD, a member of the American Physiological Society, who was not involved in the study, said the first step in getting enough sleep is ruling out any sleep pathology, such as sleep apnea or insomnia. If you are still sleeping poorly after ruling these out, then it’s time to focus on sleep hygiene.

According to Greenlund, sleep hygiene involves forming positive habits that enhance your sleep quality.

“First, sleep should not be a luxury,” he advised. “Sleep is a necessity.”

Greenlund went on to state that it’s important to get 7-9 hours of sleep each night.

“Just like you set an alarm to get up in the morning, you should find a time to begin your nightly wind-down for sleep and be consistent with it (even on the weekends).”

Secondly, he suggests finding something that helps you relax during your wind-down.

“Pull yourself away from electronics, dim the lights, and try to read a book about 30 minutes before you plan to sleep,” said Greenlund.

Next, you should make sure you have a comfortable sleeping environment that’s conducive to sleep.

“Your bedroom should be dark, cool (62-67 degrees), and quiet sound machines or fans can help even out background noise,” he suggested.

Finally, it’s also important to pay attention to your daily routine.

“Make sure to get plenty of light exposure during the day to align your biological clock, exercise regularly to expend some energy (but not too close to bedtime), limit alcohol consumption in the late evening, avoid caffeine from the late afternoon onward and try to eat dinner at least three hours before you try and fall asleep,” said Greenlund.

New research has found that sleeping less than seven hours is associated with a greater risk of developing high blood pressure.

Sleeping less than five hours increases this risk even more.

Females who slept fewer than seven hours had a greater risk than males.

Inadequate sleep might be associated with high blood pressure because it can affect multiple hormones that influence blood pressure. It can also lead to chronic inflammation.

In order to get plenty of sleep, you should see a doctor to rule out any sleep disorders that might be affecting your ability to sleep. Once you’ve ruled out sleep disorders, practicing good sleep hygiene is the best way to make sure you are getting enough sleep.