While it’s important to practice some of these habits at all times of day (like drinking plenty of water and eating balanced meals), the evening is an especially important time for lowering blood pressure and unwinding after a long day.
“Studies have shown that blood pressure elevations at night (and during sleep) are especially detrimental as they’re associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular events, including heart attack and stroke,” says John Higgins, MD, a sports cardiologist with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth in Houston.
- John Higgins, MD, sports cardiologist with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth
Here are seven healthy habits you can incorporate into your evening routine to help lower your blood pressure levels and protect your heart.
1. Take a post-dinner walk
A stroll after supper can support healthy blood pressure levels. It’s true: Walking for just 15 to 30 minutes after dinner can lower blood pressure by up to 4 mmHg systolic (the top number) and 2 mmHg diastolic (the bottom number), says Dr. Higgins.
And that's not all: A post-dinner walk is also a great way to help keep your blood sugar in check, because blood sugar levels peak about an hour after you eat, he adds.
But before you hit the road (or treadmill), give your body a little time to digest. Forty minutes will allow your body to empty any food from your stomach, says Dr. Higgins, making your walk more comfortable.
2. Take your blood pressure meds before bed
If you take blood pressure meds every day, when you take them can make all the difference. Taking your medication at bedtime might have the greatest benefits.
“By taking your blood pressure medications before going to bed, you’re preventing high blood pressure during sleep, which is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease,” says Dr. Higgins.
In fact, in a large, randomized study of over 19,000 participants, people who took their blood pressure pills at bedtime had nearly half the risk of heart-related death and disease compared to people who took medication in the morning, according to 2019 research in the Cardiovascular Journal of Africa.
Still, the study’s researchers recommend talking to your doctor before making any major changes. They may have a good reason to prescribe your pills in the morning (e.g., you take other meds that could negatively interact with your blood pressure medicine, or you need to take it multiple times per day).
3. Stick to a regular sleep schedule
“Irregular sleep, sleep deprivation, or sleep problems like obstructive sleep apnea are all associated with high blood pressure,” Dr. Higgins says.
In fact, people who sleep fewer than six hours (or more than nine hours) per night have a higher risk for high blood pressure (along with other serious health problems including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and premature death), according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
The sweet spot for heart health is getting between seven to nine hours of sleep, says Dr. Higgins.
But how long you sleep is only part of the equation when it comes to blood pressure. It’s also important to stick to a consistent sleep schedule for healthy blood pressure levels.
That’s what a March 2023 study in Hypertension concluded. In a large study of more than 12,000 adults, people with inconsistent sleep routines were more likely to have high BP compared to people who usually went to sleep and woke up around the same times each day.
The takeaway? Try to hit the hay and wake up around the same time every day (ideally within a 30-minute window for both), says Dr. Higgins. And we know it’s tough, but sticking to this schedule on the weekends can help, too.
- Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature
- Remove your electronic devices and screens like TVs, computers, and phones from your room
- Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol close to bedtime
- Get some exercise during the day, which can help you fall asleep more easily at night
"Cutting your salt intake by just 1 teaspoon per day can lower blood pressure about the same as anti-hypertensive medication." —John Higgins, MD, cardiologist
4. Try to eat less salt with dinner
“A big salt load with the evening meal (for example, 4,000 to 8,000 milligrams of sodium) can lead to an increase in systolic blood pressure up to 40 mmHg within a few hours,” Dr. Higgins says.
Eating too much salt can also have long-term health effects, too. Excess sodium can narrow your blood vessels, which may also contribute to high blood pressure, per the AHA.
Instead, try “cutting your salt intake by just 1 teaspoon per day, which can lower blood pressure about the same as anti-hypertensive medication,” says Dr. Higgins. (The AHA recommends hitting about 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day.)
While 1 teaspoon of salt sounds insignificant, it’s actually equivalent to about 2,300 milligrams of sodium, per the AHA.
It's not just a matter of keeping an eye on how much salt you shake out on your dinner plate. You'll also want to try to limit the amount of packaged and highly processed foods you eat, i.e., where most of the sodium in the standard American diet comes from, says Dr. Higgins.
One way to pack your plate with blood pressure-friendly foods is by following the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan, which has been shown to lower high blood pressure (and improve cholesterol levels), according to the National Council on Aging (NCOA).
In fact, "the DASH diet can lead to a reduction in systolic blood pressure of up to 5 to 10 mmHg,” says Dr. Higgins.
While you totally don’t have to follow the DASH diet exactly (every diet has many iterations), here are some basic guidelines to help you start, according to the NCOA:
- Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Limit sugar-sweetened beverages and desserts
- Limit foods high in saturated fat
- Try to get fat-free or low-fat dairy products
- Eat fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and vegetable oils
5. Snack on a fruit salad for dessert
If you crave something sweet after dinner, help keep your blood pressure stable by eating fruit for dessert—like a fruit salad topped with yogurt, granola, or a bit of peanut butter.
Some of the best fruits to help your blood pressure include the following, per the NCOA:
- Berries: Strawberries and blueberries are chock-full of anthocyanins—antioxidant compounds that have been found to lower blood pressure in people with hypertension
- Bananas: Bananas are packed with potassium, which can help lower blood pressure
- Kiwis: Kiwis have an antioxidant called lutein, which may help reduce blood pressure
6. Skip wine with dinner and the pre-bed nightcap
It may feel tempting to finish off that bottle of red with dinner, or to have a little cocktail before you hit the hay, but too much alcohol, especially before bedtime, can increase high blood pressure and irregular heartbeats (i.e., arrhythmias). Long-term, excessive alcohol intake can also damage your heart muscle cells and lead to heart failure, according to the AHA.
In the short-term, though, drinking alcohol within four hours of bedtime can sabotage your sleep—i.e., cause restless sleep, nighttime wakefulness, and overall poorer sleep quality, according to an August 2019 study in the journal Sleep. And as we've learned, sticking to a consistent sleep schedule is essential for healthy blood pressure.
This is not to say you need to stop drinking altogether. Ultimately, imbibing in moderation and doing what’s best for your well-being is key. The recommendation is no more than two drinks per day, per the AHA.
What about a glass of red wine? Is it healthy for your heart?
You may have heard before that red wine is healthy for your heart. The grapes used to make red wine have an antioxidant called resveratrol, which may reduce your cholesterol and lower your blood pressure, per the AHA.
But there’s still some debate about whether red wine is actually good for your cardiovascular health. That’s because you’d have to drink a lot of it to reap the cardioprotective benefits of resveratrol, per the AHA. And as we know, drinking in excess is damaging to your heart. Plus, the evidence to support that drinking red wine is good for your health is weak, and does not show a cause-and-effect relationship between red wine and heart health, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Meanwhile, due to alcohol’s negative impacts to your heart and other body systems, the AHA recommends moderation when it comes to drinking.
If you’re unsure about whether drinking red wine is safe and healthy for you, talk to your doctor. They can come up with suggestions specific to your body’s needs.
7. Create a nightly wind-down routine
Stress can take more of a toll on your body than you’d think. It can even spike your blood pressure, and over time, chronic stress can lead to inflammation in your body, which contributes to heart disease and other health problems, per the American Psychological Association (APA).
One way to help lower your stress and blood pressure after a long day is by having a relaxing nighttime routine. Try a few of these self-care practices before bed to lower your blood pressure, recommended by Dr. Higgins:
Try progressive muscle relaxation
This is a mind-body practice that involves taking deep breaths while tensing up certain muscle groups and then relaxing them. This can be done in your bed before drifting off to sleep. Start at your feet and move your way up to your calves, thighs, butt, abdomen, arms, neck, and face. Follow this process for about 10 to 20 minutes until you’ve reached the top of your head.
Keep a gratitude journal at your bedside table and jot down little things you’re thankful for each day. Doing this not only helps lower stress levels and improve blood pressure, but it may also reduce inflammation in your body, according to VCU Health.
Avoid stressful things at bedtime
We know it’s hard, but try not to check work emails, scroll through social media, or watch upsetting or disturbing content right before bed that may cause your blood pressure to rise.
If you are going to use your phone, try turning on a relaxing meditation practice, calming music, or a relaxing video to lower your heart rate and help you feel sleepy.
Take a hot bath or shower
Dipping into a warm bath or shower just 15 minutes before bed can help your blood vessels dilate and lower your blood pressure, says. Dr Higgins. The warm water may also help relax your muscles and help you feel calm before bed.
Bonus points if you add a relaxing scent to your bathing experience, like lavender or eucalyptus bath salts, which are known to have a calming effect.
Have a glass of water
Staying hydrated can help keep your blood pressure stable. Here’s why: When you’re parched, your sodium levels rise, and your body releases a hormone called vasopressin, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Vasopressin makes your blood vessels constrict, which can lead to higher blood pressure.
You may want to keep a fresh glass of water or your trusty reusable water bottle on your bedside table in case you get thirsty at night.
—reviewed by Jennifer Logan, MD, MPH
- “Bedtime BP meds may cut heart risk by almost half : large randomised study.” Cardiovascular Journal of Africa vol. 30,6 (2019): 368–372.
- Scott, Hannah et al. “Sleep Irregularity Is Associated With Hypertension: Findings From Over 2 Million Nights With a Large Global Population Sample.” Hypertension (Dallas, Tex. : 1979) vol. 80,5 (2023): 1117-1126. doi:10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.122.20513
- Spadola, Christine E et al. “Evening intake of alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine: night-to-night associations with sleep duration and continuity among African Americans in the Jackson Heart Sleep Study.” Sleep vol. 42,11 (2019): zsz136. doi:10.1093/sleep/zsz136
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