People experiencing prolonged episodes of poor sleep after a divorce are at high risk of an increase in blood pressure, a new study finds.
Poor sleep after a divorce is inevitable. However, if such occurrences continue for prolonged duration, it may have drastic health effects.
"In the initial few months after a separation, sleep problems are probably pretty normal, and this is an adjustment process that people can typically cope with well," UA associate professor of psychology, David Sbarra, said in a press statement. "But sleep problems that persist for an extended period may mean something different. It may mean that people are potentially becoming depressed, that they're struggling with getting their life going again, and it is these people that are particularly susceptible to health problems."
The study was conducted on 138 people who had divorced their partners 16 weeks before the start of the study. Over a period of seven and a half months, the participants were asked to visit the lab thrice and report about the quality of their sleep. Researchers used a model known as Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, which takes into consideration all sleeping issues like from tossing and turning to snoring to difficulty falling and staying asleep. Researchers also measured each participant's blood pressure on all three visits.
Though there was no association between sleep quality and blood pressure in the first visit, researchers found that participants showed increased systolic and diastolic blood pressure in later visits as a consequence of earlier sleep problems.
"We saw changes in resting blood pressure were associated with sleep problems three months earlier. Earlier sleep problems predicted increases in resting blood pressure over time," Sbarra said. "What we found was if you're having sleep problems up to about 10 weeks after your separation, they don't appear to be associated with your future increase in blood pressure. However, after 10 or so weeks -- after some sustained period of time -- there seems to be a cumulative bad effect."
The study authors pointed out that these findings shouldn't be taken lightly, especially by those that already have high blood pressure and undergoing a divorce.
"If somebody is going through a divorce and unable to sleep, they really need to get some help or it could lead to problems," the study authors said. "We are all going to go through something stressful in our lives, whether it's a divorce or something else and this shows how important it is for all of to value sleep and take care of ourselves."
This is not the first study that has highlighted the adverse effects divorce has on a person's health. According to a 2013 study, divorce causes chronic stress because it is usually an ongoing event. The stress that comes from divorce also weakens the immune system.
Divorce-induced depression can also contribute to a weakened immune system, as can social isolation and feelings of loneliness, according to the American Psychological Association.
A 2010 study found that break-ups can seriously disrupt our sense of self. In the case of divorce, when your finances, home and family are connected with your former spouse, this clouding of self-identity could be particularly severe.
The study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Findings were published online in the journal Health Psychology.