The relationship between sleep apnea and hypertension (high blood pressure) is complicated. Often, those with sleep apnea have hypertension, and those with hypertension have sleep apnea. It may be that these two disorders are connected only because a risk factor for developing both of them is obesity. However, it seems that sleep apnea may actually cause or worsen hypertension. Interestingly, though, the heart functioning of many individuals seems to be unaffected by untreated sleep apnea, but it is unclear why. Might sleep apnea be interacting with another factor to cause or worsen hypertension? A large cohort study recently investigated this question. The researchers were interested in whether those who slept a very short amount and also had sleep apnea were at a greater risk for having hypertension.
Over 400 patients previously diagnosed with hypertension were included as research participants. Of those, only individuals who reported sleeping less than 6 hours per night habitually were included in the study sample. Heart health in the short sleeping group was compared to that of a group who also habitually slept less than 6 hours but did not suffer from sleep apnea. The analysis included variables such as age, obesity, diabetes, depression, smoking status, sleep architecture and fragmentation, to determine which factors seemed contribute to hypertension.
Not surprisingly, results showed that those with sleep apnea were more likely to have hypertension. Also, as predicted, those who slept less than 6 hours habitually + had sleep apnea were more likely to have hypertension than those who were short sleepers but did not have sleep apnea. Severity of the sleep apnea was also important, though, as the most severe apneics who were short sleepers were at the highest risk.
This study brings up an obvious but overlooked point: habitual sleep duration is very important! Even if your sleep apnea is fully treated, sleeping only 6 hours will bring on unwanted negative health issues. Although it is understandable that life circumstances (e.g., children, night shifts, etc.) disrupt normal sleeping patterns, everyone should make an effort to get at least 7 hours of sleep per night. Those with apnea should make an attempt to get even more sleep, as more sleep could make up for disruptions caused by apneas or by treatment.
Priou, P., Le Vaillant, M., Meslier, N., Paris, A., Pigeanne, T., Nguyen, X. L., ... & Gagnadoux, F. (2014). Cumulative Association of Obstructive Sleep Apnea Severity and Short Sleep Duration with the Risk for Hypertension. PloS one, 9(12), e115666.