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Study reveals link between insomnia and hypertension in women

In an ever-busy world, achieving sufficient sleep has become a formidable challenge. Now, a team of scientists from the Channing Division of Network Medicine of Brigham and Women’s Hospital (affiliated with the Mass General Brigham healthcare system), has highlighted the health implications of proper sleep. 

The research indicates a connection between insufficient sleep and a heightened risk of hypertension in women. 

Symptoms of insomnia 

“These findings suggest that individuals who struggle with symptoms of insomnia may be at risk of hypertension and could benefit from preemptive screening,” said lead author Shahab Haghayegh, a research associate at the Brigham and Harvard Medical School. 

“Hypertension is associated with many other physical and mental health complications. The sooner we can identify individuals with high blood pressure and treat them for it, the better we can mitigate future health issues.”

Lack of adequate sleep 

The rising trend of both hypertension and sleep-related issues is concerning for adults across the United States. Disturbingly, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that over 35 percent of US adults are deprived of adequate sleep. 

Furthermore, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine points out that nearly 30 percent of Americans are battling with insomnia. Even more alarmingly, 45 percent of US adults appear to be grappling with high blood pressure.

Focus of the research 

In their comprehensive study, Haghayegh and his team monitored 66,122 participants, aged 25-42, from the Nurses’ Health Study II (NHS2) cohort. None of these participants had hypertension at the beginning of the study, which took place between 2001 until 2017. 

The researchers examined diverse variables, including age, lifestyle habits, sleep patterns, and health history. Regular assessments were conducted to determine the onset of hypertension among participants, factoring in their sleep durations and any challenges related to sleep.

Increased risk of hypertension 

The results painted a clear picture: women with compromised sleep often exhibited higher BMI, indulged in unhealthy lifestyles, including smoking and alcohol consumption, and many had undergone menopause.

In the collected data, 25,987 instances of hypertension were identified. Strikingly, women who managed less than the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep displayed an increased likelihood of developing hypertension. 

Those who faced challenges in initiating or maintaining sleep also exhibited a heightened risk. However, waking up early did not correlate with this risk. Crucially, these connections were evident even after adjusting for the participants’ work schedules and natural sleep-wake cycles.

Physiological changes 

The exact dynamics between sleep disturbances and hypertension risk remain elusive. Yet, the experts have argued that disruptions in sleep might trigger a sequence of physiological changes potentially leading to hypertension. 

This includes factors like sodium retention, arterial rigidity, and variations in cardiac output. Additionally, any imbalance in the sleep/wake cycle can interfere with the vascular tone regulation.

Study implications 

Though the study centered on women, the researchers aim to broaden their focus to include male and non-binary participants in future studies. Another limitation was the intermittent data collection on sleep quality during the study. However, the extensive participant base and the lengthy follow-up period bolster the study’s credibility.

Haghayegh highlighted the non-causal nature of these findings. He is keen on delving deeper to comprehend the link and ascertain if addressing one condition might alleviate the other. His future research aims to investigate whether sleep medications can influence blood pressure positively.

“I hope these findings further underscore the crucial role of quality sleep in our overall well-being. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends sleeping seven or more hours a night, and if you cannot fall or stay asleep, it might be worth exploring why that is. This study highlights yet another reason why getting a good night’s sleep is so important,” he concluded.

The study is published in the journal Hypertension.

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