Sleep Apnea and high blood pressure are closely related. As blood oxygen declines during the night, as is common for someone who has untreated Sleep Apnea, it has a side effect of raising blood pressure levels. When blood oxygen content is low, the brain sends signals to the blood vessels to tighten as a way of helping improve the flow of blood oxygen1.
Research has shown treating Sleep Apnea, through faithful adherence to using CPAP therapy, can lower blood pressure levels by increasing blood oxygen during sleep. High blood pressure is one of many Sleep Apnea issues that can develop.
This article covers Sleep Apnea and cardiovascular conditions, as well as Sleep Apnea and hypertension. We’ll provide tips that can help you get better sleep as you continue living with Sleep Apnea.
Does Sleep Apnea Cause High Blood Pressure?
Sleep Apnea plays a very important role in causing high blood pressure, but it is not the only cause1. High blood pressure has been linked to many things, including:
- Alcohol Consumption
- Caffeine Intake
- Sleep Conditions
Improving any one of these risk factors can lower your blood pressure. Studies have also found that in instances where a person’s blood pressure is being treated but is not regulated, more effective Sleep Apnea treatment could help. How is Sleep Apnea usually treated?
Typically, Sleep Apnea treatment involves using Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy using a CPAP machine, APAP machine, or BiPAP (BiLevel or BPAP) machine to blow pressurized air into the airway, causing the relaxed muscles of the airway and throat to open up.
This, in turn, allows air to reach the lungs. Provided you use your therapy equipment regularly, it can help raise blood oxygen during sleep. As blood oxygen saturation goes up, blood pressure goes down.
Sleep Apnea can also indirectly influence blood pressure. If you’re not sleeping, you may go through your day tired. In these situations, you may consume more caffeine to help stay awake. Increased caffeine consumption can lead to higher blood pressure readings. If Sleep Apnea is adequately treated, you may need less caffeine to stay awake.
By decreasing the amount of caffeine consumed, you’ll be taking steps to lower blood pressure at the same time; which is why it’s important to treat Sleep Apnea if you want lower blood pressure readings2.
Resistant Hypertension and Sleep Apnea
You know the drill. You take your blood pressure medications daily, and your numbers are still dangerously high. What can you do? A good place to start is by asking your doctor about Resistant Hypertension. What is Resistant Hypertension? Resistant Hypertension is a medical condition in which blood pressure isn’t easily controlled.
You may be on a variety of blood pressure medicines, and if they’re still not working, you may have Resistant Hypertension. One of the treatments that can work for Resistant Hypertension is CPAP therapy3. If you’re currently undergoing treatment with a CPAP machine and your blood pressure isn’t going down, you might want to start checking your AHI from the previous night to see if it’s still high. This could be a sign that your treatment isn’t effective.
Here are some tips for improving the quality of your sleep and the effectiveness of CPAP therapy:
- Sleep on your side instead of your back. Sleeping on your side allows gravity to naturally open your airway, so your CPAP machine doesn’t work as hard. In many cases, sleeping on your side can dramatically improve the quality of your sleep and improve the effectiveness of your CPAP therapy.
- Avoid alcohol close to bedtime. Even having one drink within two hours of bedtime can impact your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. If alcohol is in your system, it relaxes your muscles, including the muscles of the throat and mouth. When a person is struggling with Sleep Apnea, loose muscles in the throat can make your symptoms worse. Consider limiting alcohol consumption before bedtime. Your muscles will have more tension, helping you sleep better and feel better.
- Use an APAP machine. APAP machines offer the advantage of being able to provide different pressures during the night, depending on what your body needs. CPAP machines are set at one pressure and have no way to adjust to changing needs. There may be times during the night where your body may need more than your original pressure and an APAP machine is able to handle it.
When Sleep Apnea treatment is effective, your blood pressure should go down as a result of your treatment3. That’s why it’s important for you to work with your doctor if you have Resistant Hypertension or your Sleep Apnea treatment isn’t working.
Sleep Apnea and Cardiovascular Conditions
For many people, Sleep Apnea and Cardiovascular Conditions go hand-in-hand and often occur at the same time, but it’s unclear if Sleep Apnea directly causes heart conditions. It can refer to a number of conditions, including:
- Heart Attack
- Heart Failure
- High Blood Pressure
Heart failure has also been linked to a less common form of Sleep Apnea.
Known as Central Sleep Apnea, it’s a condition in which the signal to breathe isn’t sent to the lungs by the brain. Central Sleep Apnea impacts people with congestive heart failure and Cheyne-Stokes Breathing4.
This is a form of shallow breathing that gradually decreases during sleep, and eventually can cause it to stop completely. The stoppage of breathing is known as Central Sleep Apnea4. Central Sleep Apnea is treated differently from the most common form of Sleep Apnea: Obstructive Sleep Apnea.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea is the most common form of Sleep Apnea and it’s also the easiest to treat. Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a condition in which a person’s airway becomes blocked by the soft tissues of the mouth and throat during sleep, preventing air from reaching the lungs. Obstructive Sleep Apnea affects over 22 million Americans, and many of them don’t know that they have it5.
How does Sleep Apnea affect the heart? Obstructive Sleep Apnea is linked to cardiovascular and heart conditions because the two disorders share a lot of the same risk factors. Here are some of the shared risk factors and Sleep Apnea causes that can also cause cardiovascular conditions:
- High BMI
- Poor Diet
- Tobacco Use
- Alcohol Consumption
Reducing risk factors for one condition usually has a side effect of improving the symptoms of the other and vice-versa. That’s why it’s important to take steps to reduce these risk factors as a part of your Sleep Apnea treatment.
Over time, as these risk factors improve, you’ll get better sleep during the night and may find your blood pressure reduces. We covered a lot of ground in this article, and hope it helps as you plan your treatment for Sleep Apnea.
1. American College of Cardiology Sleep Apnea and High Blood Pressure: A Dangerous Pair. Published on the American College of Cardiology’s official website on May 1, 2015. Accessed on October 16, 2018.
2. G V Robinson, J C Pepperell, R J O Davies, J R Stradling. Caffeine Levels Following Treatment of Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Published in the medical journal Thorax in 2003. Accessed on October 16, 2018.
3. David A. Calhoun, et. al. Resistant Hypertension: Diagnosis, Evaluation, and Treatment. Published in the medical journal Circulation on June 24, 2008. Accessed on October 16, 2018.
4. Dai Yumino, and T. Douglas Bradley. Central Sleep Apnea and Cheyne-Stokes Respiration. Published by the American Thoracic Society on February 15, 2008. Accessed on October 16, 2018.
5. American Sleep Apnea Association. Sleep Apnea Information for Clinicians. Published by the American Sleep Apnea Association on their official website. Accessed on October 16, 2018.
David Repasky has been using CPAP treatment since 2017 and has first-hand experience with what it’s like to live with Sleep Apnea. He brings the patient’s perspective to the CPAP.com blog and has received formal training in CPAP machines, masks, and equipment.