May 1st kicks off National High Blood Pressure Education Month. Stress and family history are often cited as the culprits behind high blood pressure. However, a lack of sleep can also lead to hypertension. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) reminds all Americans of the importance of a good night's sleep and how it may help improve cardiovascular health.

Ronald Kramer, MD, medical director of the Colorado Sleep Disorders Center in Englewood, says that people tend to forget that stress in today's world also includes the physical stress of missing sleep as they attend to family, work, and the 24-hour information age.

"Recent medical studies have all reached very similar conclusions: if a normal, healthy person chronically deprives their body of the normal sleep they need, there is an increased risk of developing hypertension," said Kramer. "This may only occur in some people that are 'only' depriving themselves of one-to-two hours of sleep a night on a chronic basis. Most adults require seven-to-eight hours of sleep every night."

According to Dr. Kramer, it is becoming clear to the field of sleep medicine that chronic, ongoing sleep deprivation can set up chemical and hormonal changes in a person's body that will lead over time to chronic hypertension. Changes that could lead to high blood pressure include the release of "stress" hormones such as adrenaline and the retention of salt by the body in response to missing sleep, added Kramer.

"Getting the right amount of sleep regularly should avoid any concern about getting hypertension as a result of sleep deprivation," said Kramer. "Getting enough sleep will most likely aid in the control of blood pressure in those who already have hypertension from any cause."

According to Lawrence Epstein, MD, AASM past president, medical director of Sleep HealthCenters and an instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, treating sleep disorders and getting enough sleep are pillars of good cardiovascular health.

"Sleep apnea is a known risk factor for the development of hypertension, heart disease and stroke," said Epstein. "Also, chronic sleep deprivation has been shown to change metabolic function in a way that promotes weight gain and diabetes, two risk factors for heart disease."

According to a study published in the journal SLEEP, daytime sleepiness brought on by obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) may put one more at risk for cardiovascular problems. Those with OSA commonly complain of daytime sleepiness because OSA causes one's body to stop breathing during sleep and can disturb his or her sleep numerous times.

Another study in SLEEP found that persons with sleep duration above or below the recommended seven-to-eight hours per night face an increased risk of hypertension. Data from the "Sleep Heart Health Study" show that people with sleep apnea have a 45 percent greater risk for hypertension, a major predictor for cardiovascular disease, than people without sleep apnea.

Those who think they might have OSA, or another sleep disorder, are urged to see a sleep specialist at a facility accredited by the AASM.

For a listing of AASM-accredited facilities in your area, visit SleepCenters.

AASM is a professional membership organization dedicated to the advancement of sleep medicine and sleep-related research.

To arrange an interview with an AASM spokesperson, please contact Jim Arcuri, public relations coordinator, at (708)492-0930, ext. 9317, or jarcuriaasmnet.

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