People with high blood pressure who suffer from a combination of work stress and impaired sleep are three times as likely as those with no work stress and non-impaired sleep to die from cardiovascular disease, according to new research published in the peer-reviewed European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
The study authors followed a sample of 1,959 workers aged 25 to 65 with hypertension (high blood pressure) who didn’t have cardiovascular disease or diabetes, all participants in the larger MONICA/KORA cohort study in Augsburg, Germany.
The researchers defined work stress as “high demand plus low control” — in other words, having a demanding employer who doesn’t give workers control over decisions. They defined impaired sleep, meanwhile, as “difficulties falling asleep and/or maintaining sleep.”
The findings provide new evidence “that work stress together with impaired sleep increase risk of coronary and cardiovascular mortality in hypertensive workers,” the authors wrote.
Study co-author Karl-Heinz Ladwig, a professor who works with the German Research Centre for Environmental Health in Munich, called poor sleep and work stress “insidious problems.”
The risk they pose doesn’t stem from a single bad work day on little sleep, he said in a statement, but rather from “suffering from a stressful job and poor sleep over many years, which fade energy resources and may lead to an early grave.”
About 75 million adults in the U.S. — one in three — have high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hypertension heightens the risk of chronic heart failure, kidney disease, having a first heart attack and having a first stroke, and it was a primary or contributing cause to upwards of 360,000 U.S. deaths in 2013.
Just 54% of adults with high blood pressure have it under control, the CDC says. The agency recommends “healthy lifestyle” habits like adopting a low-sodium, high-potassium diet; keeping a healthy weight and engaging in regular physical activity; avoiding cigarette smoking and limiting alcohol intake; and following physicians’ instructions if they take blood-pressure medication. Research also shows that statins, which lower cholesterol, can decrease heart attack and stroke risk.
“Sleep should be a time for recreation, unwinding, and restoring energy levels. If you have stress at work, sleep helps you recover,” Ladwig said. “Unfortunately, poor sleep and job stress often go hand in hand, and when combined with hypertension the effect is even more toxic.”
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