The Connection Between Sleep Apnea and High Blood Pressure

If you are suffering from sleep apnea, could you possibly be suffering from high blood pressure as well? Some details to take into consideration include things like family history, race and ethnicity, age, and gender.

While both sleep apnea and high blood pressure are more common in middle aged to older men, anyone can suffer.

High blood pressure ( aka: Hypertension), also called the “silent killer,” is a big problem in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 3 adults suffer from hypertension, which if untreated, can lead to heart disease — the leading cause of death as of 2017.

Most of the time, high blood pressure can be treated at home through diet, exercise, natural remedies, or medication. But at least half of those with high blood pressure suffer from resistant hypertension.

Here lies the connection between sleep apnea and high blood pressure. There is a direct link between untreated sleep apnea and persistent hypertension.

What to Look for When Suffering From Hypertension

Keeping your lifestyle in check is always important. Heavy drinking or consuming alcohol before sleep, smoking, and not getting enough exercise can greatly damage your health and can affect your sleeping patterns.

As of November 17, 2017, the American Heart Association released new guidelines for watching blood pressure. These guidelines were made to help everyone, whether you have problems with hypertension or not. Everyone should keep their blood pressure in check. 

Those with normal blood pressure should have <120 mmHg over <80 mmHg. What does this mean?

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Blood pressure is measured in two numbers: systolic, and diastolic. Systolic pressure (e.g. 120 mmHg) is your heart pumping out blood. Diastolic pressure (e.g. 80 mmHg) is your heart filling up with blood.

Those with hypertension tend to have >140 mmHg over > 90 mmHg.

As you can see, there is a major difference in those numbers. If you have high blood pressure, you might want to consider picking up a blood pressure monitor from your local drugstore in order to keep an eye on your levels. 

How Sleep Apnea Affects Oxygen Levels

First, we have to understand how sleep apnea works in order to grasp how it can affect blood pressure. When those with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) fall asleep the muscles in their mouth and throat, including the tongue, tonsils, and the walls on the sides of the throat begin to relax so much that they obstruct the airway.

As a result, your brain is alerted that you are unable to get a sufficient amount of oxygen, therefore, it sends a message to wake you up so you don’t suffocate. 

You may wake up gasping for air, you might find yourself choking, or you might not notice anything because the period of awakening was so quick. 

When oxygen levels suddenly drop, your blood pressure increases. So, if you are suffering from sleep apnea, you are constantly experiencing drops and rises in oxygen throughout your sleep. Hence, your risk of hypertension rises. 

Glen Foster, an assistant professor of health and exercise at the University of British Columbia Okanagan Campus, made a study about the connection between sleep apnea and high blood pressure in 2016. He says, “after just six hours of fluctuating oxygen levels, similar to what happens with sleep apnea, the body’s ability to regulate blood pressure is impaired.”

It’s interesting to note that about 18 million Americans suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. That’s just about the three times the number of people in the greater Washington D.C. area combined. 

The Risks of High Blood Pressure

As mentioned earlier, heart disease is the number one killer in the United States as of 2017; it was listed right above cancer. Heart disease may be caused by the lack of oxygen in your blood in combination with other factors.

When your blood gets low in oxygen it deprives your muscles of oxygen as well, and since your heart is one big muscle, that also is being deprived of necessary oxygen.

If your one of your coronary arteries becomes clogged ( myocardial infarction) and your heart is already starved for oxygen due to Sleep Apnea, a piece of the heart muscle is harmed or dies, which results in cardiac arrest, or a heart attack.

Similarly, when your brain is starved of vital oxygen, your brain cells die. Uncontrolled hypertension may cause blood vessels in the brain to burst or leak. Blood clots would eventually form, blocking the flow of blood to your brain, leading to a stroke. 

High blood pressure can also lead to many other dangerous health problems.

Hypertension during pregnancy can be seriously dangerous. It puts extra strain on your heart and kidneys, and can raise your risk of heart disease or stroke. According to an article on acog.org, “women with hypertension are more likely to have a Cesarean delivery.” Other complications include fetal growth restriction and preeclampsia. Other complications can include birth defects.

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The strain high blood pressure puts on your kidneys is not something you should take lightly. It can take a long time, sometimes years, but uncontrolled blood pressure could eventually lead to kidney failure.

Your kidneys work using hundreds of tiny blood vessels to filter out toxins from fluid in your body. When blood doesn’t contain the necessary amount of oxygen and nutrients, those blood vessels become damaged, impairing the function of your kidneys. As time goes on, other arteries will become damaged, and kidney failure is imminent. 

What Can You Do?

If you suffer from resistant hypertension, solutions can be hard to find. Many people have tried home remedies: changing their diet, exercising more often, or a wide range of different medications. What most people don’t know is that in order to get rid of resistant high blood pressure for good, you have to dig out the root cause of it.

High blood pressure and sleep apnea can create a vicious and potentially fatal cycle. So, it’s important to get professional care. If your high blood pressure is caused by sleep apnea, it’s important to take steps toward helping that root problem. 

Today, it’s hard to find the time to take care of ourselves, but in the end, it’s worth the effort. Especially when it comes to getting proper sleep. 

Helping Your Sleep Apnea

Taking the time to keep your health in check is important, no matter how busy life is. Maintaining good health is the key to staying energized, focused, and refreshed; getting a good night’s sleep is especially important. If you have problems with sleep apnea or other sleep-related issues, what are some things you can do to help yourself? 

  1. Take a Sleep Study

At home sleep tests provided by a doctor can help sleep apnea. A sleep lab may give you a portable sleep monitor. These monitors measure your heart rate, as well as your air flow, blood oxygen levels, and the time you spent sleeping and snoring.  Advanced Sleep Centers of Virginia offer at-home sleep studies for your convenience.

  1. Retain a Healthy Weight

Obesity heightens your risk of OSA. It can also narrow your nasal passageways, making it harder to breathe in general. In some cases, sleep apnea may totally be done away with after moderate weight loss. Of course, the goal is to stay healthy, so if weight loss is your goal, developing a plan to lose weight is a good first step. A common tip for safe weight loss is not to lose more than 2 pounds in one week. This ensures that you’re not losing too much weight at one time.

  1. Alter Your Sleep Position

Sometimes it’s the simplest things in life that work the best. Research shows that sleeping on your back can sometimes worsen your condition, although it depends. Give it a try and sleep on your side for a few nights, then see how you feel.

  1. Humidifiers

Adding moisture into the air can help open up your airways and even minimize congestion. Some- not all- humidifiers include the ability to add essential oils into the water. Anti-inflammatory oils include peppermint, lavender, and spruce. Be sure to always clean your humidifier properly, otherwise mold and mildew can accumulate and could potentially cause inflammation in the lungs.

  1. Avoid Alcohol and Quit Smoking

Alcohol causes the muscles in the throat to relax, which as we learned earlier is the main problem when it comes to sleep apnea. 

While it is thought that alcohol helps you sleep, this has proven to be wrong. Several hours after you have fallen asleep after consuming alcohol, a stress hormone in your body is released, causing you to wake, and therefore, your sleep is disrupted.

Tobacco, aside from causing cancer, generates inflammation in your airways. Not only that, but it affects your blood pressure as well. When you smoke, or use any kind of tobacco product, your blood vessels get narrower and plaque begins to grow. This raises your risk of a heart attack or stroke.

  1. Schedule When You Will Sleep

If it’s already hard to fall asleep, changing your bedtime every night won’t help. For example, it isn’t healthy to go to bed on one night at 10, and then the next night at 12, and the next at 11. It messes up your internal clock. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day sets your internal clock. Remember, adults should get at least seven hours of sleep every night in order to be fully rested and ready for the next day. 

The Benefits of a Good Night’s Sleep

Other than feeling refreshed and brand new the next day, a good rest has other great benefits. 

  1. Sleep Reduces Stress

Stress tends to cause your blood pressure to spike. It causes your heart to work even harder and your blood vessels to grow narrow. When you relax, your stress levels lessen, therefore, your blood pressure lowers. So when you’re sleeping soundly, your stress and blood pressure go down tremendously. 

  1. Sleep Reduces Inflammation

Both stress and high blood pressure greatly affect inflammation in your body. Needless to say, when you sleep well at night, the inflammation in your body goes down, reducing your risk of heart disease and even cancer.

  1. Sleep Can Help You Lose Weight

Research shows that those who do not get a sufficient amount of sleep at night (i.e. 7 hours) are more likely to become overweight. When you’re stressed the probability of overeating and stress-eating is greater, and as mentioned earlier, sleep reduces stress. A lack of sleep can cause cravings, and cause you to become less satisfied with your regular portion sizes. 

In Summary

High blood pressure, the “silent killer”, does a good job of living up to its name. Sleep apnea is a major cause of high blood pressure, and most of the time, it goes unrecognized.

For many people, this has proven to be dangerous and even deadly. The connection between sleep apnea and high blood pressure is greater than you think.

Taking care of yourself and keeping yourself healthy is extremely important. Despite the challenges that life brings to get in the way of your health routine, it’s always vital to stay on top of your health, especially when it comes to a good night’s rest. The most important thing you can do to help yourself is to talk with a professional about any problems you may be having. That’s where our Herndon Sleep center comes in.

If you have trouble sleeping at night because of sleep apnea or are experiencing symptoms of high blood pressure, visit us at our Herndon office! Highly trained professionals at Advanced Sleep Centers of Virginia are ready to help you reach your health goals at any time. We make diagnosing and treating sleep-disordered breathing and snoring as easy and convenient as possible with at-home sleep tests, online scheduling, and a safe, secure telemedicine portal in which you can contact a professional at any time.

Ready to get a better night’s sleep and reach your full potential? We’re here to support you! You can schedule an appointment online or call us today at (703) 689-2480 for a free consultation. Please keep in mind that you might be asked to use the app Snorelab to record data of your snoring patterns prior to coming in for your appointment.

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