For this post on heart health we're focusing on sleep, primarily because the lack of it, interrupted sleep or poor quality sleep, can all contribute towards increased blood pressure in the medium to long-term.
Here are some tips to help you improve your sleep and keep blood pressure healthy.
1) Create a realistic routine
You probably know if you're a morning person or a night owl - we all have our own body clock or internal clock that determines when we're functioning at our best, and when we're at a low ebb.
In reality there are relatively few people who have an internal clock that fits in precisely with society's timetable (work, family, social), so the first thing to do is accept that in order to achieve everything you want in life, you may have to get up a little earlier than would be ideal for you, or you may need to stay awake a little longer than you'd choose if left to your own devices, but, whatever you do, make a conscious effort to create a routine for yourself that allows you to sleep well whilst also providing you with the time to do what you need to do when you're awake.
Creating a sleep routine - a pre-determined bed time and wake time - will help your mind and body prepare for restful sleep, fall asleep promptly, and experience quality sleep, all of which will equip you to face each day calmly and without the need for extra stress hormones that your body produces to keep you going when you feel tired but which will, over time, have a negative impact on your blood pressure.
2) Stick to your routine
Persistent, irregular sleeping habits can exacerbate the effects of raised blood pressure so follow your chosen sleep routine 7-nights a week.
It may feel great to 'catch up' on missed sleep at the weekends but if this leaves you wide awake on Sunday night there's a risk you won't feel great for the beginning of the working week. Shifting routine dramatically like this every week will take a toll on your body.
If you do choose to shift your routine at weekends, or you feel you've 'earned' some extra hours in bed after a tough week, experiment over a number of weekends to discover the optimum change in routine for you. It's likely that with practice you'll settle on a weekend sleep pattern that helps you feel recovered from the previous week without impacting on the following week.
3) Think twice about your daily choices
Ideally we'd all like to feel alert and engaged while we're awake, and relaxed and refreshed after a good night's sleep. The key to both is to think about everything you do during the day in relation to how it could affect your sleep at night.
For example, caffeine can perk you up but it can also impact your sleep routine hours later. Sweet snacks can feel like the right thing in the day but can wildly disrupt blood sugar levels which might affect the quality of your sleep at night.
The same goes for too much stress throughout the day. It may feel as though a bit of stress is good to get you busy and get things done, and it can be as long as you have ways to balance your stress levels before you unwind and get a restful sleep. Always be mindful of the level of pressure that helps you perform at your best, and the tipping point beyond which you risk negatively affecting your night-time recovery and your healthy blood pressure reading.
4) Design your personal pre-sleep routine
Identify the sequence of events that you know will result in you falling asleep quickly and having a quality sleep. You may need to experiment with a few different approaches but soon you'll have a strategy that tells you when you have your last meal or snack of the day, when you turn off the TV, when you put your phone / laptop / tablet away, and what you do to tell your mind and body that you're fully relaxed. This could be listening to calming music, meditating or reading.
If you are prone to waking in the night, decide in advance what you'll think and do if this happens. If you worry that when you wake it'll take ages to get back to sleep, chances are, that's exactly what will happen. If you plan an approach where you read, practice deep breathing or even write down anything that's on your mind or think about reasons why you might have awoken and what you can do to address these situations tomorrow, you can relax in the knowledge that as you work through this process you'll be preparing yourself to return to sleep very soon.
Above all, remember that you may not be able to follow your perfect sleep routine every night but you can take control to ensure that on balance, and in the medium term, you get sufficient sleep, and in the short term you do what you can to optimise the quality of every hour of sleep you do get.
Follow these guidelines and you'll sleep well all night, perform well all day and maintain a calm internal environment including healthy blood pressure at all times.