Blunted sleep-time relative blood pressure decline increases cardiovascular risk independent of blood pressure level--the "normotensive non-dipper" paradox

Chronobiol Int. 2013 Mar;30(1-2):87-98. doi: 10.3109/07420528.2012.701127. Epub 2012 Oct 5.


Numerous studies have consistently shown an association between blunted sleep-time relative blood pressure (BP) decline (non-dipping) and increased cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk in hypertension. Normotensive persons with a non-dipper BP profile also have increased target organ damage, namely, increased left ventricular mass and relative wall thickness, reduced myocardial diastolic function, increased urinary albumin excretion, increased prevalence of diabetic retinopathy, and impaired glucose tolerance. It remains a point of contention, however, whether the non-dipper BP pattern or just elevated BP, alone, is the most important predictor of advanced target organ damage and future CVD events. Accordingly, we investigated the role of dipping status and ambulatory BP level as contributing factors for CVD morbidity and mortality in the MAPEC (Monitorización Ambulatoria para Predicción de Eventos Cardiovasculares, i.e., Ambulatory Blood Pressure Monitoring for Prediction of Cardiovascular Events) study. We prospectively studied 3344 individuals (1718 men/1626 women), 52.6 ± 14.5 (mean ± SD) yrs of age, during a median follow-up of 5.6 yrs. BP was measured by ambulatory monitoring (ABPM) for 48 h at baseline, and again annually or more frequently (quarterly) if treatment adjustment was required in treated hypertensive patients. At baseline, those with ABPM-substantiated hypertension were randomized to one of two treatment-time regimen groups: (i) ingestion of all prescribed hypertension medications upon awakening or (ii) ingestion of the entire dose of ≥1 of them at bedtime. Those found to be normotensive at baseline were untreated but followed and evaluated by repeated ABPM like the hypertensive patients. Participants were divided into four investigated categories on the basis of dipping status and ambulatory BP: (i) dipper vs. non-dipper, and (ii) normal ambulatory BP if the awake systolic (SBP)/diastolic (DBP) BP means were <135/85 mm Hg and the asleep SBP/DBP means were <120/70 mm Hg, and elevated ambulatory BP otherwise. Cox survival analyses, adjusted for significant confounding variables, documented that non-dippers had significantly higher CVD risk than dippers, whether they had normal (p = .017) or elevated ambulatory BP (p < .001). Non-dippers with normal awake and asleep SBP and DBP means, who accounted for 21% of the studied population, had similar hazard ratio (HR) of CVD events (1.61 [95% confidence interval, CI: 1.09-2.37]) as dippers with elevated ambulatory BP (HR: 1.54 [95% CI: 1.01-2.36]; p = .912 between groups). These results remained mainly unchanged for treated and untreated patients analyzed separately. Our findings document that the risk of CVD events is influenced not only by ambulatory BP elevation, but also by blunted nighttime BP decline, even within the normotensive range, thus supporting ABPM as a requirement for proper CVD risk assessment in the general population. The elevated CVD risk in "normotensive" individuals with a non-dipper BP profile represents a clear paradox, as those persons do not have "normal BP" or low CVD risk. Our findings also indicate the need to redefine the concepts of normotension/hypertension, so far established on the unique basis of BP level, mainly if not exclusively measured at the clinic, independently of circadian BP pattern.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actigraphy
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antihypertensive Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antihypertensive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Blood Pressure / drug effects
  • Blood Pressure / physiology*
  • Blood Pressure Monitoring, Ambulatory*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / complications*
  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / complications
  • Hypertension / drug therapy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Statistical
  • Myocardium / pathology
  • Prognosis
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Prospective Studies
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Risk Factors
  • Sleep*
  • Time Factors


  • Antihypertensive Agents