Two recent studies show that not getting enough sleep does more than leave you foggy the next day. According to research published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, people with high blood pressure are more prone to cardiovascular disease if they don’t get enough sleep. And a study presented at the American Association for Cancer Research’s International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research found that women who exercise but skimp on sleep could be wiping out the apparent cancer-protective benefits of exercise.
THE DETAILS: Japanese researchers studied 1,255 people suffering from hypertension, monitoring their BP for an average of 50 months. Short sleep—less than 7.5 hours a night—was linked to a nearly 70% increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Those whose systolic blood pressure rose at night (known as the “riser pattern”) were even more at risk. In a separate study, lead author James McClain, PhD, cancer-prevention fellow at the National Cancer Institute, looked at the health records of nearly 6,000 women. The analysis revealed that about 600 women developed cancer over the course of 10 years; breast cancer accounted for nearly a third of the cases. Women under age 65 who exercised had a 50% increase in risk of developing cancer if they slept less than 7 hours a day, compared with exercisers who got more sleep. Nonetheless, women who were short on sleep but were physically active had a lower risk of cancer than those who didn’t exercise.
WHAT IT MEANS: Sleep is important for everyone, but if you have high blood pressure it’s especially important that you get your Zs. And women may be especially vulnerable to the health risks of losing sleep: More than half of women say sleep is the first thing they sacrifice when pressed for time, and nearly 70% of women say they have frequent sleep problems.
Take back the night with these sleep tips:
• Don’t count on sleeping pills. A 2007 analysis in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that prescription sleep aids add only 11.4 minutes to total sleeping time, and cut the time spent waiting to fall asleep by just 12.8 minutes. Before reaching for one, try simple lifestyle changes, such as ditching afternoon caffeine, getting some exercise early in the day, and turning the TV off an hour before bedtime.
• Try this nightly ritual. Before hitting the sack, eat a handful of cherries, which scientists discovered are jam-packed with melatonin, the hormone created by your body to regulate sleep patterns. Then steep yourself in a hot bath to relax your muscles and your mind.
• Find your nocturnal groove. Playing music with a beat similar to your heart (60 to 80 beats per minute) could set the tempo for slumber. Women’s Health magazine suggests this playlist, but you can probably find your own favorites with a similar beat count:
“Drift Away” (Dobie Gray)
“Dream Weaver” (Gary Wright)
“(Lay Your Head on My) Pillow” (Tony! Toni! Tone!)
“Come Away with Me” (Norah Jones)
“The Scientist” (Coldplay)
“Until the End of Time” (Justin Timberlake featuring Beyoncé)
“Landslide” (Dixie Chicks)
“Bubbly” (Colbie Caillat)
“In the Waiting Line” (Zero 7)
“Hallelujah” (Jeff Buckley)
• Create a cool room. Keep the temperature of your bedroom between 65 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit to help cool your body’s core temperature to a comfortable sleeping level. Keeping the temp turned down will also save you money on heating bills, and cut down on greenhouse-gas emissions.
• Try a soothing scent. Wesleyan University researchers monitored patients’ sleep cycles and found that a whiff of lavender before bed helped them doze more deeply. Don’t rely on synthetic scents—they create indoor air pollution and contain harmful phthalates. Instead, fill a spray bottle with water and add two or three drops of organic lavender essential oil, and spritz the bedroom before you hit the sack.
• Stop blocking melatonin. If your clock shows blue numbers, it could block melatonin production and keep you awake. Pick one that emits amber light, or adopt your grandmother’s wind-up ticker. Lights can suppress melatonin, so sleep in a dark room or use a sleep mask.