Harvard Medical School

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The BBC reports today on a study showing that elderly men who spend little time in deep sleep could be at risk of developing high blood pressure. A study on 784 patients, in the journal Hypertension, showed those getting the least deep sleep were at 83% greater risk than those getting the most. Researchers say they would expect a similar effect in women.

The British Heart Foundation said it was important for everyone to prioritise sleep. High blood pressure – also known as hypertension – increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and other health problems. Researchers measured the “sleep quality” of 784 men over the age of 65 between 2007 and 2009. At the start none had hypertension, while 243 had the condition by the end of the study. The patients were split into groups based on the percentage of time asleep spent in deep, or slow wave, sleep. Those in the lowest group – 4% deep sleep – had a 1.83-fold increased risk of hypertension compared with those in the highest group, who spent 17% of the night in deep sleep.

One of the report’s authors, Professor Susan Redline from Harvard Medical School, said: “Our study shows for the first time that poor quality sleep, reflected by reduced slow wave sleep, puts individuals at significantly increased risk of developing high blood pressure. Although women were not included in this study, it’s quite likely that those who have lower levels of slow wave sleep for any number of reasons may also have an increased risk of developing high blood pressure.”

The report said further studies were needed to determine if improving sleep could reduce the risk. Natasha Stewart, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Whilst this study does suggest a link between lack of sleep and the development of high blood pressure, it only looked at men aged over 65.

“We would need to see more research in other age groups and involving women to confirm this particular association. However, we do know more generally that sleep is essential for staying healthy. It’s important we all try to make sleep a priority and get our six to eight hours of shut-eye a night.”

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Last week the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School released the 3rd module of its online Sleep and Health Education Program. “Apnea: Understanding and treating obstructive sleep apnea” features a four-minute video starring celebrity and NBA giant Shaquille O’Neal, who announced the video’s debut on Wednesday in a tweet to the 3.8 million followers of @THE_REAL_SHAQ on Twitter.

The video, “Shaq attacks sleep apnea,” shows O’Neal interacting with Harvard sleep specialists as they prepare him for an overnight sleep study. Then they discuss his treatment options and select a CPAP mask after the study shows that he has moderate OSA. O’Neal reports that treatment is helping him get seven to nine hours of sleep each night, which is giving him more energy and allowing him to manage his weight.

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