A sleep disorder called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) may be an underlying reason for high blood pressure in many older and middle-aged adults. Published studies conducted by Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, the Mayo Clinic and other institutions have confirmed that those who suffer from OSA are at increased risk for hypertension.
OSA is caused by airway blockage, usually when the soft tissue in the back of the throat closes during sleep. OSA is characterized by loud snoring and frequent stops in breathing throughout the night (sometimes hundreds of times a night). The brain causes the person to awaken slightly so that breathing resumes. The person probably won’t remember waking up during the night, but will likely feel very tired.
The condition is relatively common – affecting an estimated 15 million Americans – many of whom are overweight. Experts speculate that this may be the reason why overweight people are also at higher risk for hypertension. Sleep apnea can also lead to memory problems, weight gain, headaches and fatigue-related accidents.
OSA treatment also may lower your blood pressure
If you’ve been told that you snore, or you have other symptoms of sleep apnea such as excessive daytime sleepiness, it is wise to be evaluated by a physician who may recommend that you undergo a sleep study in a lab setting, where instruments can recognize and measure the severity of the problem.
Incredibly, an estimated 80-90 percent of people who have sleep apnea go undiagnosed. Most studies have determined that when OSA is treated, blood pressure levels decrease significantly.
OSA treatment options range from weight loss to surgery that improves air flow. Some people with mild cases of sleep apnea have success using nasal decongestants, while others sleep better using devices that they insert into their mouths before falling asleep. You might also try changing sleep positions, which may work for mild cases of OSA. It’s also advisable to avoid alcohol before bedtime, as that can worsen OSA severity.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine endorses the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines, which involve wearing a mask fitted snugly over your nose and perhaps your mouth. CPAP machines provide a pressurized air flow that keeps the airway from collapsing. Studies show that people who use their CPAP machines regularly feel better and have fewer OSA complications.