By Dr. Mercola
When you mess with your body's intrinsic need for regular, high-quality sleep, it sets off a cascade of biological changes that can seriously impact your health.
The trouble is, of course, that many people don't intentionally neglect proper sleep; instead, they simply can't fall asleep or stay asleep once they do … and this, unfortunately, increases your risk of developing serious chronic diseases.
Hard-to-Treat Hypertension Linked to Poor Sleep Quality
In a study presented at the American Heart Association High Blood Pressure Research 2012 Scientific Sessions, researchers found a strong link between sleep quality and a type of high blood pressure known as resistant hypertension, which does not respond to typical drug-based treatments.
In fact, women who had resistant hypertension were five times as likely to also have poor sleep quality. While the average length of sleep in this study was only 6.4 hours a night (and nearly half slept fewer than six hours each night), it was sleep quality, not quantity, that appeared to influence hypertension risk.
While this study only found an association with women, other studies have also linked hypertension in men to a lack of deep sleep,1 and sleeping fewer than seven hours a night has been linked to hypertension in both men and women.2
Even Partial Sleep Deprivation Impacts Your Health … And Your Weight
If you sleep less than six hours a night, defined as "partial sleep deprivation," you may not only be increasing your risk of high blood pressure but also obesity (a known high blood pressure risk factor).
New research found that partial sleep deprivation is associated with obesity and alters your food intake by disrupting key hormones involved with regulating metabolism and appetite.3
"Reduced sleep may disrupt appetitive hormone regulation, specifically increasing ghrelin [a hormone that triggers hunger] and decreasing leptin [the hormone that tells your brain you're full] and, thereby, influence energy intake. Increased wakefulness also may promote food intake episodes and energy imbalance," the researchers said.
Reduced insulin sensitivity was also noted among the sleep-deprived subjects, and this not only increases your risk of diabetes but also high blood pressure!
The Same Factors That Cause Diabetes Also Cause High Blood Pressure
Lack of sleep interferes with metabolism and hormone production in a way that is similar to the effects of aging and the early stages of diabetes. It's long been known, in fact, that sleep deprivation increases your diabetes risk … so it's not at all surprising that it also increases your risk for high blood pressure, because the two are caused by essentially the same factors.
High blood pressure, like diabetes, is typically related to your body developing resistance to insulin. As your insulin level rises, your blood pressure rises. Most physicians – even cardiologists – do not understand the crucial connection between blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and insulin.
Dr. Richard Johnson, author of the book The Fat Switch, masterfully ties together the connection between hypertension, obesity and diabetes in his previous book, The Sugar Fix, which is one of the best books written on this issue. Dr. Johnson is the Chief of the Kidney Disease and Hypertension Division at the University of Colorado, and I would encourage you to listen to his interview below for more information.
Tips for Reducing Your High Blood Pressure (and Diabetes) Risks …
More than 85 percent of those who have hypertension can normalize their blood pressure with some basic lifestyle modifications – and these tips work for lowering your diabetes risk too:
- Normalize your insulin levels by avoiding sugar, fructose and grains: If your blood pressure is elevated and you consume a lot of sugar – especially in the form of fructose (such as high fructose corn syrup) – lowering your blood pressure might be as simple as cutting all forms of sugar and grains out of your diet. Normalizing your blood glucose levels will normalize your insulin and bring blood pressure down into a healthy range. I strongly advise keeping your TOTAL fructose consumption below 25 grams per day, or as low as 15 grams if you have high blood pressure, are overweight, or diabetic.
Unlike glucose, which is burned by fuel in every cell in your body, fructose, if not immediately consumed as fuel, is metabolized into fat by your liver, which can set the ball rolling toward insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. I highly recommend getting a fasting insulin level test, which must be ordered by your doctor. The level you want to strive for is about 2 to 3. If it's above 5, then you have a problem and you definitely need to get your insulin level down as you are at risk for cardiovascular problems.
- Use exercise as a drug. Physical activity is by far one of the most potent "drugs" there is, especially for increasing insulin sensitivity and normalizing blood glucose and blood pressure levels. We have developed a comprehensive fitness program that includes high-intensity interval burst-type activity called Peak Fitness, stretching, and resistance training, which are all important components of a complete fitness program.
- Follow a good nutrition plan that's right for your body. It should be rich in fresh, organic vegetables, raw nuts and seeds, raw organic dairy, eggs from pastured hens, grass-fed meats, healthy fats such as coconut oil and animal-based omega-3, and plenty of fresh pure water.
- Optimize your vitamin D levels. Sunlight, and the vitamin D it causes your body to produce, has a normalizing effect on your blood pressure. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.
The best source for vitamin D is direct sun exposure. But for many of us, this just isn't practical during the winter and fall months. The next best option to sunlight is the use of a safe indoor tanning device. If neither natural nor artificial sunlight is an option, then using oral vitamin D3 supplements is your best bet. If you wish to take an oral vitamin D3 supplement, follow my dose recommendations, which are based on the latest scientific research. The only way to know your optimal dose is to get your blood tested. Ideally, you'll want to maintain a vitamin D level of 50-70 ng/ml year-round.
For an in-depth explanation of everything you need to know about vitamin D, please listen to my FREE one-hour vitamin D lecture.
- Manage your stress. Stress puts the "tension" into hypertension! The long-term activation of your stress-response system can disrupt nearly all of your body's processes, and elevated blood pressure is one of many negative effects. Finding a way to deal with life's everyday stressors is a necessity for good health. My preferred tool is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).
- Get plenty of deep, restorative sleep each night.
Lack of Sleep Increases Teen Sports Injuries
If you're a teenager who plays sports (or the parent of one), here's one more reason to make sure you get a restful night's sleep. Teen athletes who slept for eight or more hours each night were 68 percent less likely to get injured than those who slept less, according to a study presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition.
Perhaps these teens are simply more alert on the field than their less rested teammates, or maybe there is another role sleep plays in helping protect your body from harm. Either way, teenagers are notorious for staying up too late or falling asleep while watching TV or using a computer, which may interfere with their sleep quality. Yet, on average, children and teens need more sleep than adults. Making sure your teen learns healthy sleep habits early on is important not only for injury prevention, but also for preventing chronic diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes down the line.
Top Tips for Healthy Sleep
Making some adjustments to your sleeping area can also go a long way to ensure uninterrupted, restful sleep. I suggest you read through my full set of 33 healthy sleep guidelines for all of the details, but to start:
- Cover your windows with blackout shades or drapes to ensure complete darkness. Even the tiniest bit of light in the room can disrupt your pineal gland's production of melatonin and the melatonin precursor serotonin, thereby disrupting your sleep cycle.
So close your bedroom door, get rid of night-lights, and refrain from turning on any light during the night, even when getting up to go to the bathroom. If you have to use a light, install so-called "low blue" light bulbs in your bedroom and bathroom. These emit an amber light that will not suppress melatonin production.
- Keep the temperature in your bedroom at or below 70 degrees F (21 degrees Celsius). Many people keep their homes and particularly their upstairs bedrooms too warm. Studies show that the optimal room temperature for sleep is quite cool, between 60 to 68 degrees F (15.5 to 20 C). Keeping your room cooler or hotter can lead to restless sleep.
- Check your bedroom for electro-magnetic fields (EMFs). These can also disrupt your pineal gland's production of melatonin and serotonin, and may have other negative effects as well. To do this, you need a gauss meter. You can find various models online, starting around $50 to $200. Some experts even recommend pulling your circuit breaker before bed to kill all power in your house.
- Move alarm clocks and other electrical devices away from your head. If these devices must be used, keep them as far away from your bed as possible, preferably at least three feet.
- Reduce use of light-emitting technology, such as your TV, iPad, and computer, before going to bed. These emit the type of light that will suppress melatonin production, which in turn will hamper your ability to fall asleep, as well as impact your cancer risk (melatonin helps to suppress harmful free radicals in your body and slows the production of estrogen, which can activate cancer). Ideally, you'll want to turn all such light-emitting gadgets off at least one hour prior to bedtime.