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Did you know that changing the position of your body can influence your blood pressure?
That’s why a nurse will ask you to uncross your legs when getting a reading at the doctor’s office
But I’m talking about taking your blood pressure seated versus lying down.
Usually, the autonomic nervous system regulates blood pressure in different body positions. However, one team of researchers notes gravity can cause blood to pool when seated or upright, and the body is sometimes unable to properly manage blood pressure in lying, seated or standing positions.
I’m sure you can imagine the problems this could lead to. So, why is this just coming to our attention?
It’s taken about 25 years to gather the data — and the findings may have a lot of us wishing we’d known much sooner…
High blood pressure while lying down elevates risks
Their study examined health data on supine and seated blood pressure for 11,369 adults with an average age of 54 from the longitudinal Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study.
Each participant’s blood pressure data was collected at the time they enrolled, in both a seated and supine position (flat on the back) at a clinic. Blood pressure readings equal to or greater than 130/80 mm Hg were considered high. Then, participants in the study were followed for an average of 25 to 28 years, which included about 5 visits.
Out of all the participants, 16 percent who did not have high blood pressure while seated had high blood pressure while lying flat on their backs, compared to 74 percent of participants who had high blood pressure while both seated and supine.
When compared with participants who did not have high blood pressure while seated or supine, those who had high blood pressure in both positions had the following results:
- a 1.6 times higher risk of developing coronary heart disease
- a 1.83 times higher risk of developing heart failure
- a 1.86 times higher risk of stroke
- a 1.43 times higher risk of overall premature death
- a 2.18 times higher risk of dying from coronary heart disease
But this is where it’s especially concerning: Those risks were similar for participants who had high blood pressure while lying down — but not while seated.
In other words, people who had high blood pressure while lying flat on their backs had a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure or premature death.
“Our findings suggest people with known risk factors for heart disease and stroke may benefit from having their blood pressure checked while lying flat on their backs,” says lead study author Duc M. Giao, a researcher and a fourth-year M.D. student at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
Bringing down supine blood pressure
Giao notes that efforts to manage blood pressure during daily life may help lower blood pressure while sleeping. “Future research should compare supine blood pressure measurements in the clinic with overnight measurements,” he says.
If you’ve only ever had your blood pressure taken while sitting (as most of us only ever have), and have always had good readings, you may want to get a home blood pressure monitor and see how a supine reading stacks up.
And even if you already know you have blood pressure, check it lying down so can find out whether your blood pressure might be rising while you sleep and increasing your risks further.
While most of the time there are no symptoms that accompany supine hypertension, you may experience headache, frequent urination at night or orthostatic hypotension in the morning — that’s a sudden drop in blood pressure that occurs upon standing, leaving you feeling dizzy or lightheaded.
Another indication that you may have supine high blood pressure could be the quality of your sleep. Virginia Tims-Lawson writes about how sleep efficiency may influence blood pressure. She also has some tips for getting better sleep, including taking vitamin D before bedtime.
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2. What is Supine Hypertension? — Healthline