Fewer hours of sleep may pose the risk of high blood pressure and adverse changes in blood pressure to middle-agers.
Sleep deprivation is linked to an increased activity in the sympathetic nervous system, which controls the body's stress response. Over time, this activation could contribute to high blood pressure.
"Identifying a novel lifestyle risk factor for high blood pressure could lead to new interventions to prevent or reduce high blood pressure," the authors said.
"Laboratory studies of short-term sleep deprivation have suggested potential mechanisms for a causal link between sleep loss and hypertension," they added.
For the study, Kristen L. Knutson, Ph.D., of the University of Chicago, and colleagues examined 578 adults who first had their blood pressure and other clinical, demographic and health variables measured between 2000 and 2001.
In 2003 and 2005, sleep duration was measured using surveys and wrist actigraphy, in which a sensor is worn on the wrist to record periods of rest and activity. Blood pressure, demographic and self-reported sleep information were measured again in 2005 and 2006.
Participants slept an average of six hours per night; only seven averaged eight or more hours of sleep.
After excluding patients taking medication for high blood pressure and controlling for age, race and sex, the researchers found that individuals who slept fewer hours were significantly more likely to have higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
The study is published in the June 8 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.