Sleep Deprivation and Heart Health: What Does the Latest Science Say

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A wide body of scientific research has proven that regular sleep is crucial to our health and well-being. We’re all pretty clear on that. Yet, even with plentiful evidence of sleep deprivation, the fast modern lifestyle has led many people to skimp out on sleep.

Juggling between work, responsibilities, and personal time has got many adults stretching out their days, cramming in as much waking hours as possible. On top of that, insomnia is a worryingly common issue for men as they age.  This can make sleep deficiency common even among those who’re not trying to skimp out on the z’s.

There is an obvious link between a lack of sleep and increased risk of cardiovascular problems, including obesity, and various chronic diseases.  Scientists continue to research sleep deprivation in search of answers that could be potentially life-saving.

We still have little understanding of the underlying mechanisms of sleep, and how exactly sleep deprivation causes heart problems. However, a study published recently in the scientific journal Nature is pointing to some very valuable clues.


Inflammatory processes and clogged arteries

Many types of heart diseases entail a condition called atherosclerosis, where arteries harden due to plaque buildup. Impacting men with Type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis is also one of the underlying causes of erectile dysfunction.

As cholesterol deposits build up on the walls of arteries, the risk of heart attack or stroke increases.  This buildup can lead to lethal ruptures. Immune cells (particularly white blood cells) play a self-sabotaging role here.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital wanted to establish whether disrupted sleep triggered immune processes.  They Conducted a study on mice.  The results found plaque building up in the arteries. Here’s a quick rundown of what they found:

  • The mice that were subjected to sleep disruption, through a 12-week period, had more plaque buildup in their arteries.  This is compared to the mice that slept undisturbed throughout the experiment.
  • They also had excess levels of white blood cells.
  • Hyprcretin triggers the overproduction of immune cells.  This is a hormone which promotes wakefulness. Previous research shows that the brains of people with narcolepsy are deficient in the neurons that make this hormone.
  • The sleep-deprived mice also had lower levels of hypocretin.


What do these findings suggest about Sleep Deprivation?

These findings are quite a big deal for future sleep deprivation research because they’re showing an important connection between fragmented sleep and vascular disease. The study has shown that lowered hypocretin levels result in heightened levels of inflammatory white blood cells in mice, which in turn further clog arteries and accelerate atherosclerosis. That means that sleep directly helps regulate the production of inflammatory cells and is crucial to keeping arteries healthy.

This probably isn’t the only mechanism that connects sleep to artery health.  It is an important finding that could unveil more connections between sleep deprivation and other diseases.


Getting to the root of Your Sleep Deprivation

We don’t have definitive answers to explain the mechanisms behind sleep deprivation.  In addition, studies such as this one are helping us get there. For the time being, what we all can do is focus on our sleeping patterns.  If we’re sleep-deprived, look for the root cause.

Keep in mind that it’s not just a lack of sleep that poses a serious threat to your health – but poor-quality sleep as well. If you’re tossing and turning at night and waking up tired, consider looking further into your sleep patterns and the underlying causes.

Disorders such as sleep apnea are a major cause of sleep deficiency, especially among men, and the sooner you’re diagnosed, the quicker you can get to proper treatment. Furthermore, for those who have been diagnosed with OSA (obstructive sleep apnea), optimizing sleep apnea treatment with improved CPAP machines is helping make strides in managing this condition.


The takeaway

The field of sleep research is vast and full of unanswered questions. Scientists continue to dig deeper and look for root connections in the quest for better understanding of the mechanisms behind sleep – and ultimately finding the answers that will help improve population health. Research that deals specifically with sleep deprivation and disruption gives us important clues and time and time again reinforces the idea that proper sleep is one of the key pillars of health.

It’s important to stay informed regarding the latest studies – but with or without them, we need to actively work on improving the quality of our sleep. This is especially important when you reach a certain age and waking up countless times at night or not being able to sleep for more than a few hours becomes commonplace.

If you’re having trouble sleeping and you’re chronically tired, don’t hesitate.  Visit a doctor to get to the bottom of the problem. Most importantly, give your lifestyle a close look. After all, sleep goes hand in hand with proper diet and exercise.



Author Bio

Caitlin Evans is a medical student and blogger. When she is not trying to find the meaning of life and the Universe, Caitlin is studying. researching and writing about various health-related topics.


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