Background: Clinical observations have linked sleep-disordered breathing, a condition of repeated apneas and hypopneas during sleep, with hypertension but evidence for an independent association has been lacking. Understanding this relationship is important because the prevalence of sleep-disordered breathing is high in adults.
Objective: To test the hypothesis that sleep-disordered breathing is related to elevated blood pressure independent of confounding factors.
Methods: The sample included 1060 employed women and men aged 30 through 60 years who had completed an overnight protocol as part of the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort Study. In-laboratory polysomnography was used to determine sleep-disordered breathing status, quantified as the number of apneas and hypopneas per hour of sleep (apnea-hypopnea index). Blood pressure was measured on the night polysomnography was performed.
Results: Blood pressure increased linearly with increasing apnea-hypopnea index (P = .003 for systolic, P = .01 for diastolic, adjusted for confounding factors). The magnitude of the linear association increased with decreasing obesity. At a body mass index (weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in meters) of 30 kg/m2, an apnea-hypopnea index of 15 (vs 0) was associated with blood pressure increases of 3.6 mm Hg for systolic (95% confidence interval, 1.3-6.0) and 1.8 mm Hg for diastolic (95% confidence interval, 0.3-3.3). The odds ratio for hypertension associated with an apnea-hypopnea index of 15 (vs 0) was 1.8 (95% confidence interval, 1.3-2.4).
Conclusions: There is a dose-response relationship between sleep-disordered breathing and blood pressure, independent of known confounding factors. If causal, the high prevalence of sleep-disordered breathing could account for hypertension in a substantial number of adults in the United States.