Night Owls Watch Out: Your Sleep and Blood Pressure are Connected

Dr. Pakhi Sharma (MBBS)
Dr. Pakhi Sharma (MBBS)

General Physician | 6+ years

Sleep and Blood Pressure
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Good sleep is much more of a necessity for our physical and mental health than we realise. The effects of lack of sleep range beyond the usual daytime sleepiness and lack of concentration. Did you know that sleep and blood pressure are related? Keep reading to find out how sleep affects your blood pressure, the factors that affect sleep, and tips for improving your sleep quality.

Contents:
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    How Much Sleep do You Need?
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    What Are Some Factors That Can Affect Your Sleep Quality?
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    How Does Sleeping Affect Your Blood Pressure?
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    Can a Lack of Sleep Cause High Blood Pressure?
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    What Can You do to Improve Your Sleep Quality?
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    When to See a Doctor?
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    Don’t Have Time To Read?
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    FAQs

How Much Sleep do You Need?

The optimum duration of sleep required for an individual to function normally depends on several factors, the most important being age. The amount of sleep required decreases gradually as we age, with newborn children requiring the most to adults requiring the least. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is a United States federal agency, recommends at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night for adults aged 18 years and older.

Getting a minimum of 7 hours of sleep every night can have the following health benefits.

  • Curbs the release of hunger hormone (ghrelin) and prevents weight gain.
  • Boosts immunity.
  • Improves mood, cognitive function, and mental alertness when awake.
  • Improves physical alertness and performance.
  • Relieves stress and lowers cortisol (stress hormone) levels.
  • Stabilises blood sugar levels.
  • Promotes heart health.

Alleviates mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.

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What Are Some Factors That Can Affect Your Sleep Quality?

The following factors can lead to a lack of sleep or worsen your quality of sleep.

  • Stress

When you experience physical or mental stress, your body releases stress hormones like cortisol and catecholamines (epinephrine and norepinephrine) to help you deal with the stressor. These hormones trigger a “fight or flight” response in your body, which makes you more mentally and physically alert, thus keeping you awake. Thus, any form of short-term or long-term stress you experience can result in a loss of sleep duration and quality. This lack of sleep in turn makes you more vulnerable to stress and raised cortisol levels, resulting in a vicious cycle.

  • Sleep Apnoea

Sleep apnoea is a condition in which you experience trouble breathing when you are asleep. You may experience repeated periods of time where you stop breathing before you resume again. During these periods when you are not breathing, your blood oxygen levels drop suddenly, which causes an increase in your heartbeat and blood pressure levels. This lack of oxygen can also result in breathlessness and frequent waking in the night.

  • Caffeine

Caffeine is a nervous system stimulant, i.e., it increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure, and makes you mentally and physically alert. Caffeine consumption keeps you awake and alert, resulting in poor sleep quality.

  • Irregular Sleep Schedule

Having an erratic sleep schedule, i.e., sleeping at different times every night, getting drastically different durations of sleep every night, and taking day-time naps that are longer than an hour, can all affect your circadian rhythm (biological clock). This can result in problems like a lack of sleep, taking too long to fall asleep, interrupted or disturbed sleep, etc.

  • Mental Health Disorders

Mental health issues like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), bipolar disorder (BPD), etc. can cause insomnia, which is a sleeping disorder characterised by an inability to fall or stay asleep. 

  • Medication

Some medicines can cause insomnia or disturbed sleep as a side effect. If you suspect your medication may be interfering with your sleep, discuss your concerns with your doctor.

How Does Sleeping Affect Your Blood Pressure?

Sleep can lower your blood pressure in the following ways:

  • Lowers stress and cortisol levels

A lack of sleep can make you more susceptible to stress and increased cortisol levels as sleep deprivation can cause mental fatigue, affect your judgement, and worsen your mood. Thus, even a temporary loss of sleep can make you more likely to experience stress. Chronic stress can be a major contributing factor to elevated blood pressure levels. When you are under physical or mental stress, your body can release stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline (epinephrine), and vasopressin to deal with the stressor. These hormones can increase your blood pressure by constricting your blood vessels. 

Long-term stress can also cause you to adopt unhealthy coping behaviours like smoking, drinking alcohol, binge-eating, and avoiding physical activity or exercise, all of which can contribute to high blood pressure.

When you get adequate sleep on most nights, your stress and thus cortisol levels stay under control and do not contribute to higher blood pressure levels. Thus, sleep is essential for lowering your blood pressure. 

  • Curbs hunger and manages weight

A good night’s sleep can curb hunger by preventing the release of ghrelin, which is also known as the “hunger hormone”. This can stop you from overeating in the morning and during the day, which makes weight loss and weight management much easier. Being overweight or obese can increase the pressure exerted on your blood vessels, thus raising your blood pressure levels.

Thus, sleep is essential for maintaining a disciplined eating routine and healthy weight range, both of which can help you keep your blood pressure under control. 

Can a Lack of Sleep Cause High Blood Pressure?

A lack of sleep can cause high blood pressure in the following ways:

  • Sleep deprivation increases cortisol levels, leading to elevated blood pressure.
  • Sleep loss can trigger the release of hunger hormones, leading to increased appetite. This could lead to weight gain, which raises blood pressure.
  • A lack of sleep can increase inflammation in your body. This inflammation can put you at an increased risk of developing hypertension and Type 2 Diabetes.
  • Chronic sleep loss can make you feel tired or sluggish, which can cause you to avoid physical activity and exercise. The resulting weight gain can lead to hypertension.
  • Sleep deprivation may cause you to consume stimulants like caffeine or nicotine, that help you stay awake and mentally alert. Ho

What Can You do to Improve Your Sleep Quality?

The following tips for sleep hygiene can help improve your quality of sleep.

  • Have a steady sleep schedule. Wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day.
  • Plan your bedtime to ensure that you can get at least 7 hours of sleep.
  • Only go to bed when you feel sleepy.
  • Turn off your lights or electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
  • Get out of bed if you do not fall asleep within 20 to 30 minutes. Try meditating or performing a relaxing activity that does not require exposure to light.
  • Limit your exposure to or avoid bright lights starting in the evening.
  • Have a relaxing routine before bedtime like meditating, reading a book, or listening to music.
  • Do not work or eat on your bed. Use it only for sleeping.
  • Have thick curtains or blinds on your bedroom windows to ensure your room is sufficiently dark.
  • Make sure your bedroom does not have any distractions, such as a television.
  • Maintain an even and cool temperature in your bedroom.
  • Avoid eating heavy meals 2 to 3 hours before bedtime.
  • Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet.
  • Avoid consuming stimulants like caffeine or nicotine in the evening.
  • Avoid the consumption of alcohol before bedtime.
  • Limit your fluid consumption before bed in order to prevent waking up at night to urinate.

When to See a Doctor?

Being unable to fall asleep once in a while is considered normal and is not a cause for concern. However, if you are experiencing several of the following behaviours regularly over the course of a month, consult a doctor.

  • You take more than 40 minutes to fall asleep.
  • You struggle to stay asleep throughout the night.
  • You feel tired after you wake up despite sleeping for more than 7 hours.
  • You snore loudly when you are asleep.
  • You have trouble staying physically and mentally active throughout the day.
  • You have trouble staying awake when you are inactive or relaxed.
  • You have fallen asleep at inopportune times (at school, at work, while driving, etc.).
  • You struggle to perform well professionally or at school.

Don’t Have Time To Read?

  • Sleep is an essential factor for maintaining your overall well-being.
  • The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep for adults aged 18 years and older.
  • Sleep has several health benefits like boosting your immunity, improving mood and productivity, stabilising blood sugar levels, improving physical performance, relieving stress, improving heart health, and easing mental health conditions like depression.
  • Some of the factors that can affect your sleep quality include stress, sleep apnoea, caffeine intake, an irregular sleep schedule, mental health disorders, and certain medications.
  • Sleeping can lower your blood pressure levels by lowering cortisol levels, relieving stress, and preventing weight gain by curbing the release of hunger hormones.
  • A lack of sleep can cause high blood pressure by increasing your cortisol levels, causing inflammation, and leading to increased consumption of caffeine and/or nicotine. 
  • Sleep deprivation can also cause weight gain by inducing appetite, while also causing tiredness which could lead to avoidance of physical activity. Thus, the resultant weight gain can lead to higher blood pressure levels.
  • You can improve your sleep quality by improving your sleep hygiene, making your surroundings more conducive to sleep, avoiding stimulants like caffeine and bright digital screens before bedtime, limiting the consumption of water and other fluids before bedtime, etc.
  • Consult a physician if you have been experiencing sleep deprivation or disturbed sleep that is affecting your daily life
  • Use the Phable Care App to consult India’s leading cardiologists, order medicines, book lab tests, integrate BP monitors and other devices to get real-time remote care from the comfort of your home. Also, check out our Hypertension Management Program which provides ‎360º care. Let’s treat low/high blood pressure problems together

Frequently Asked Questions

There is unclear evidence regarding sleeping on your left side and how it affects your heart health. Most studies suggest that sleeping on the left side does not cause any ill effects on your heart if you are healthy. However, sleeping on the left side can cause shortness of breath if you have a cardiovascular disorder. If you have a heart condition, consult your doctor about the ideal sleeping position for you.

There is no general consensus among experts regarding the best sleeping position for high blood pressure. Most doctors and experts agree that getting around 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep is more important than the position you sleep in. However, if you have been diagnosed with cardiovascular disorders or have an implanted device like a pacemaker, ask your doctor about the ideal sleeping position for you.

If your blood pressure readings are above 180/120 mm Hg before bed, or if you are experiencing any symptoms of high blood pressure, such as nosebleeds, chest pain, shortness of breath, or seizures, do not try to go to sleep. Contact a doctor or seek immediate medical attention.

Yes, getting uninterrupted sleep for at least 7 to 9 hours every night can help lower your blood pressure. Studies have shown that mid-day or afternoon naps (about 30 to 50 mins long) can also help lower your blood pressure levels.

In healthy individuals, BP levels reach their highest in the afternoon and stay elevated throughout the evening. Then, blood pressure levels drop at night and are generally at their lowest during sleep. This increase in blood pressure during the day progresses is regulated by several factors like your circadian rhythm, food intake, physical activity, stress levels, etc. If you experience any symptoms related to high blood pressure, consult a doctor for further guidance. 

Your blood pressure is generally at its highest in the afternoon and in the evening.

Blood pressure readings below 120/80 mm Hg are considered normal. Studies suggest that your blood pressure can dip by 10% to 20% when you are asleep.

No, your blood pressure when sleeping should ideally be lower than your blood pressure during the day, and within the normal range of 120/80 mm Hg. High blood pressure at night is also known as nocturnal hypertension, which is detrimental to your heart health. Consult a physician if you are experiencing nocturnal hypertension. 

Dr. Pakhi Sharma
Dr. Pakhi Sharma, MBBS
(General physician, 6+ years)
An expert in obstetrics and medical emergencies, Dr. Pakhi Sharma, an alumni of Sri Devaraj Urs University of Higher Education and Research Centre, is a general physician working at Phablecare. She has 6+ years of work experience spread across gynaecology and obstetrics, family medicine, and medical emergencies at renowned hospitals and clinics.

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