Latest research from the American Heart Assocation shows that not getting enough sleep causes inflammation of artery linings and increases blood pressure – at least in women.
Difficulty falling asleep affects most of us at some time, often due to stress and anxiety when whirling thoughts make it difficult to relax and nod off. Surveys show that over one in four (28%) of adults report getting six hours of sleep, or less, per night.
Women are particuarly prone to not getting enough sleep – not necessarily because they worry more, but because of the demands of caring for children or ailing family members. Women are also more prone to depression than men, due to the effects of female hormone balance, and depression is also linked with poor sleep quality.
Previous research shows that lack of sleep increases the risk of cardiovascular disease by almost a quarter (24%). Researchers therefore investigated the effects of inadequate sleep on blood pressure in 323 women taking part in the American Heart Association Go Red for Women study.
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Sleep and blood pressure
The study found a definite link between poor sleep quality on blood pressure readings. In women who experienced insomnia, or who took longer to get to sleep, levels of arterial inflammation (causing arterial stiffness and constriction) were also higher, even if the overall duration of sleep was normal. They concluded that even mild sleep disturbances, such as poor sleep quality, prolonged time to fall asleep, and insomnia was associated with increased blood pressure and vascular inflammation in women, even if they weren’t sleep deprived.
The average adult needs 7 hours 12 minutes sleep per night. Previous studies have shown that women getting 5 or fewer hours of sleep per night are 68% more likely to develop hypertension than women who get at least 7 hours sleep per night. Among men, similar sleep deprivation ‘only’ appears to increase the risk of hypertension by 30% compared with those getting 7 hours of quality sleep.
What’s more, a prolonged sleep onset latency (ie lying in bed tossing and turning before you manage to drift off) increases the odds of hypertension by 300%.
Is your bed affecting your sleep quality?
Did you know the average bed should be replaced after seven years? During this time you’ll have spent over 20,000 hours wearing it out. Many people keep the same mattress for two or three times longer than they should. According to sleep experts, replacing an uncomfortable bed with a new one can give you an extra 42 minutes sleep. If your bed is past its use-by date, replace it – don’t wait until your mattress is sagging in the middle, lumpy or shedding its springs. And f you share a bed, think large – bigger is better. You and your partner both need room to move around without disturbing each other – a bigger bed also provides cooler spaces to move into when necessary so that getting too hot doesn’t wake you. It’s also important to ensure your mattress is not too hard and not too soft. Temperature-sensitive viscose-elastic mattresses, which mould to your shape and support your joints, can reduce night-time tossing and turning.
Sleeping in silk sheets also helps to regulate night-time temperature and humidity to promote a more restful sleep. As a bonus, silk pillowcases don’t wrinkle, so you don’t wake up with creased skin, and they give your hair a lovely shine. Others swear by Mellanni brushed microfiber bedding judging from the 41,338 positive reviews on Amazon.com!
Enter the Alpha zone
As you drift off to sleep, your brainwaves initially slow from wakeful Beta waves down to the Alpha state of 8-14 cycles per second. You then enter the dreamy Theta, melatonin state before going down into deep Delta sleep. Listening to music that promotes alpha waves can help you drift off to sleep more quickly.
Sleep Phones are another option, and were developed by a doctor who wanted her insomniac patients fall asleep naturally, without sleeping pills. Like pyjamas for your ears, their soft fleece band incorporates slim speakers. Pull the band into place over your ears, plug the lead into your MP3 player, iPod or music system and then drift off to the sound of your favourite music, meditative sounds, audio books, whatever… you…. find… helps….. you….. drift…..off…….
It’s traditionally recommend to have a warm, milky drink before bed to help you relax – hot milk with cinnamon or nutmeg for example. But researchers have found that dairy products promote a better night’s sleep when eaten at any time of day – not just before bed. A study, involving 437 older adults found that a higher milk or cheese consumption during the day plus light physical activity was linked with less difficulty in falling asleep. This is because dairy products provide magnesium and calcium, which relax muscles and lower blood pressure as a bonus. They also contain unique peptides such as lactium – a protein chain that helps babies to fall asleep after suckling.
Go for tryptophan
Dairy products also supply the amino acid, tryptophan, which is needed for the production of melatonin hormone. Other foods that contain tryptophan include turkey, bananas, oats, honey, pumpkin seeds and tart Montmorency cherries which also help to lower blood pressure.
Research from Louisiana State University also showed that drinking Montmorency cherry juice, twice a day for two weeks, increased sleep time in people with insomnia so that those drinking the cherry juice slept for an average of 85 minutes longer than those drinking the placebo.
Cannabidiol (CBD) oil is my go-to supplement to improve sleep quality by reducing muscle tension, reducing restlessness and anxiety, and supporting REM or Rapid Eye Movement sleep so you wake feeling more refreshed. As a bonus, CBD also helps to lower blood pressure.
This is the cannabidiol supplement I take (Disclaimer: I act as a consultant to Healthspan) but you can also get good quality pharmaceutical products from CBD Oils (including gummies), Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. I prefer the capsules (or gummies) to cannabidiol oil which has an earthy, grassy taste which takes some getting used to.
Lavender oil capsules are a traditional herbal medicine to relieve the anxiety, stress and nervousness, which can interfere with sleep. Studies involving 2,200 people confirm that lavender oil is as effective as the prescribed sleeping drug, lorazepam, for treating mild anxiety, with benefits seen within two weeks. For safe oral use, the oil must be of pharmaceutical grade, come from the flowers of one particular species of lavender, Lavandula angustifolia Miller, and be taken in capsule form. Don’t take normal lavender essential oils orally, as these may contain synthetic chemicals, pesticides or other impurities. Lavender oil also lowers blood pressure. See lavender oil capsules on Boots, Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.
5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) acts as a building block to make serotonin that is converted into melatonin. Studies show that 5-HTP can help you fall asleep faster and lengthen the time spent in REM (rapid eye movement, or dreaming) sleep, so you wake feeling more refreshed.
Valerian is a traditional herbal remedy that reduces anxiety and improves sleep quality. Valerian can also lower blood pressure by reducing anxiety.
Rhodiola rosea is another traditional herbal medicine that is both calming and energising, so is ideal of you are anxious and exhausted. Rhodiola is classed as an adaptogen that normalises adrenal gland function and production of stress hormones. Rhodiola is also used to help lower blood pressure.
How to improve your sleep quality
Aim to avoid day-time naps, which reduce your need for sleep at night.
Avoid overindulgence in substances that interfere with sleep such as caffeine (eg coffee, tea, colas), nicotine and alcohol – although alcohol gets you to sleep quickly, it interferes with sleep qaultiy and you tend to wake in the night once the drug-like anaesthetic effect wears off.
Eat a light meal in the early evening, otherwise hunger – a primitive alerting response – can stop you sleeping. Try not to eat after 7 pm, and avoid rich, heavy evening meals that need a lot of digesting.
Have a bath containing Dead Sea mineral salts. These contain magnesium which is absorbed through the skin for a muscle-relaxing effect that promotes sleep.
Regular exercise during the day is important, but avoid vigorous exercise in the evening which will have an alerting effect.
Keep a window slightly open in your bedroom at night to allow oxygen to circulate (fit a safety lock if necessary to deter burglars).
Take time to unwind from the stresses of the day before going to bed – read a book, listen to soothing music or have a candle lit bath.
Ensure your bedroom is quiet, and a comfortable temperature – 18 to 22 degrees C is ideal.
Ensure your bedroom is fully dark. Switch off all lights, and fully draw the curtains, which should be well-lined to block out all light. You may need an additional black-out blind during summer.
Avoid using a blue screen device (ie smart phone, tablet) for at least 30 minutes before bed time – and ideally not for an hour or two. Blue light reduces production of melatonin – your natural sleep hormone.
If something is worrying you write it down and promise yourself you’ll deal with it in the morning – don’t take worries to bed with you.
Take a relaxing herbal remedy such as cannabidiol CBD half an hour before bedtime.
If you can’t sleep, get up and read for a while. Write down any worries and promise yourself you’ll deal with them in the morning. When you feel sleepy, go back to bed and try again. If sleep does not come within 15 minutes, get up and repeat this process.