You remember when your Mom told you that you should at least be sleeping 8 hours every night? She was right! Getting enough sleep is crucial to wellness because of the restoration that happens at certain levels of sleep depth. Recently, studies show that if someone consistently neglects to get in a full night’s rest, they will experience a decline in their heart health due to an increase in their blood pressure. Forget the annoyances of feeling groggy and slow after a short night’s sleep – these consequences are serious and lasting.

According to the TIMES article by Anne Harding about recently released research findings, about one quarter of adult sleeping hours are spent in a valuable period of sleep called the slow-wave phase. What’s more, this deeper sleep phase occurs later in the sleep pattern, at about 7-9 hours. It’s the dream state of sleeping! It’s during this phase that the body is “restorative,” which is important for memory and cognitive ability, among other essential body functions.

“The new study, which included 784 men over the age of 65 adds to the growing evidence that slow-wave sleep is also essential to our metabolism and heart health,” writes Harding. “Compared to men who spent at least 17% of their sleep time in the slow-wave phase, those who spent less than 4% in this restful state had 83% higher odds of developing high blood pressure (hypertension) years later, the study found.”

The researchers took a varying degree of factors into account. They factored in the test subjects’ age, body mass index, and racial background. Still, after accounting for these variables, the tests showed a link between the amount of slow-wave sleep and hypertension. The research showed that the men who got the least amount of slow-wave sleep had higher chances of developing hypertension several years down the road. In fact, between 41% of these sleep-deprived men developed the daunting blood pressure stats when checked up on only 3.5 years later. Compare that to the 26% of men who had the most amount of slow-wave sleep in the group, and you’ll be motivated to schedule your 8 hours!

So, what can you do to ensure optimal length of night time rest? Sleep medicine experts at Harvard advise us to keep a consistent daily sleep schedule, get tested for sleep apnea, and avoid tobacco and alcohol before bedtime. Of course, you should also avoid caffeine drinks like coffee, tea and soda at night and even in the afternoon. Ensure your bedroom lighting is very dark. Even be selective of your foods. Health.com suggests a “snooze-friendly combination of protein and tryptophan, an amino acid that converts sleep-promoting serotonin in the body” will do the trick. Their suggestions? A small bowl of cottage cheese with banana slices, or yogurt mixed with cereal.

Finally, before you fully flip the lights, dim them to get your body ready for bedtime. Low-level lighting actually signals your biological clock that sleep is near. Do these things, and you’ll set yourself up for sleepy success!

Reference:

http://healthland.time.com/2011/08/30/could-lack-of-deep-sleep-fuel-high-blood-pressure/

http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20407230,00.html