Short sleep and shift work may increase high blood pressure risk

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The Impact of Sleep on Blood Pressure

Researchers from the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute have uncovered a critical link between sleep habits and the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.

Their study, utilizing data from the UK Biobank and published in Nature Communications, highlights that both too little and too much sleep can negatively impact blood pressure.

This research emphasizes the importance of maintaining a balanced sleep schedule for cardiovascular health.

Optimal Sleep Length and the Risks of Shift Work

The study points out that seven hours of sleep per night is the ideal duration for healthy blood pressure levels. Sleeping less than seven hours, or more than this optimal length, can be harmful.

The findings are particularly concerning for night shift workers, who often experience disrupted sleep patterns. Those who work permanent night shifts and sleep fewer than five or six hours face the highest risk of elevated blood pressure.

However, even rotating shift workers, who don’t always work at night, show increased blood pressure, though not as dramatically as those on permanent night shifts.

Understanding Circadian Rhythms and Health

Our body’s circadian clock, which regulates nearly all bodily processes, including metabolism, thinking, heart rate, and sleep-wake cycles, plays a vital role in maintaining health.

Disrupting these natural rhythms – for example, through shift work or irregular sleep patterns – can lead to what’s known as circadian strain.

This strain can negatively affect how our organs function, including how our body regulates blood pressure. High blood pressure is closely tied to our circadian rhythms, and any disruption in these patterns can have significant consequences for heart health.

The study’s lead, Associate Professor Morag Young, emphasizes that lifestyle factors like diet, exercise, and alcohol consumption are well-known influences on blood pressure.

However, this research adds another dimension, suggesting that how much we sleep and when we sleep also play critical roles.

For shift workers, maintaining healthy sleep lengths and habits could be an additional strategy to lower the risk of developing hypertension.

This groundbreaking study sheds light on the complex relationship between our daily routines and long-term health, particularly concerning cardiovascular risks.

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The research findings can be found in Nature Communications.

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