Lack of sleep doubles risk of high blood pressure in men over 70

SUFFERING from a poor night’s sleep greatly increases the risk of high blood pressure in older men, research shows.

A lack of deep sleep was found to raise the risk of the condition by 80 per cent over a period of 3.4 years, the study revealed.

Campaigners said the findings backed up evidence that good quality sleep was important for staying healthy.

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For the latest US study, researchers measured how long 784 men with an average age of 75 spent in “slow wave sleep” (SWS), a deep stage of sleep from which it is difficult to awaken.

Those for whom SWS took up less than 4 per cent of sleep time were significantly more likely to develop high blood pressure, or hypertension.

They also had generally poorer sleep quality as measured by shorter sleep duration, more broken nights, and more severe sleep apnoea – a sleep-related breathing problem.

The findings, reported in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension, were not influenced by body weight despite many of the men being overweight or obese. Obesity is a well-recognised risk factor for high blood pressure.

Professor Susan Redline, from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said: “Our study shows for the first time that poor quality sleep, reflected by reduced slow wave sleep, puts individuals at significantly increased risk of developing high blood pressure.

“This effect appears to be independent of the influence of breathing pauses during sleep.”

Prof Redline also co-led a separate investigation, the Sleep Heart Health Study, which showed that men were likely to experience less SWS than women.

The results suggest poorer sleep in men may partly explain why they are more prone to high blood pressure.

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“Although women were not included in this study, it’s quite likely that those who have lower levels of slow wave sleep for any number of reasons may also have an increased risk of developing high blood pressure,” Prof Redline said.

The professor said that along with diet and exercise, good quality sleep played a major role in good health.

“People should recognise that sleep, diet and physical activity are critical to health, including heart health and optimal blood pressure control,” she said.

It is estimated that nearly a third of the population of Scotland aged over 16 has a raised blood pressure or a history of high blood pressure.

Rates of the condition increase sharply with age – more than three-quarters of those over 75 years have high blood pressure.

Natasha Stewart, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “While this study does suggest a link between lack of sleep and the development of high blood pressure, it only looked at men aged over 65.

“We would need to see more research in other age groups and involving women to confirm this particular association.

“However, we do know more generally that sleep is essential for staying healthy.”