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Can Lack of Sleep Raise Your Blood Pressure?

Insomnia, coupled with less than 6 hours of sleep a night, significantly increases the risk of hypertension (high blood pressure).  A study published in the April 2009 issue of the journal Sleep investigated the link between insomnia and high blood pressure.

Insomnia was defined by the researchers as difficulty sleeping at night that lasted for at least a year.

Researchers from the Sleep Research and Treatment Center at the Penn State College of Medicine recruited 1,741 men and women from central California for the representative cross-sectional study.

8% of the study participants reported having insomnia and 22% reported poor sleep, defined as difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or early final awakening.

Since self reports of sleep are usually inaccurate, the researchers had the participants spend a night in their lab under close observation.

Half of the participants slept for 6 or more hours when under observation, about a quarter slept for 5-6 hours, and the remaining quarter got less than 5 hours of sleep.

The participants with insomnia and less than 5 hours of sleep had a 500% higher risk of hypertension compared to normal sleepers without insomnia. People with insomnia who slept 5 to 6 hours had a 350% increased risk of hypertension.

In contrast, the participants with insomnia who slept for over 6 hours had no increased risk of hypertension.

The participants with less serious sleep problems who slept less than 6 hours also had an increased risk of high blood pressure, but is was lower than for the true insomniacs.

This suggests that there may be an additive effect on hypertension when insomnia occurs in combination with short sleep duration.

Lead study author Dr. Alexandros N. Vgontzas notes that these findings show insomnia has real medical consequences and should be accorded more in depth study from the medical community.

Beyond increased hypertension risk, less severe effects of insomnia include irritability, disorientation, or excitability.  Long term insomnia can result in severe depression and anxiety.

Suggested cures for insomnia include avoiding caffeine and alcohol, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation, which involves tensing and then completely relaxing each muscle group in the body, or drinking a warm glass of milk before going to bed.

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