Sleep is something all humans and most animals do. Even fish in an aquarium go to sleep, but with their eyes open. We all know what it is like to have a good night’s sleep. We wake up feeling good and if we also had nice dreams all the better. We also know what it is like to have a bad night’s sleep of tossing and turning and sometimes bad dreams. Now researchers are using all kinds of scientific tools and gadgets to investigate just what effects sleep has on protecting against cardiovascular disease.
Science Daily reported on a recent study published January 22, 2019 in the Journal of the American college of Cardiology that investigated if the duration of time spent sleeping had any positive or negative effects on the development of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. Rather than using questionnaires to gather information, the researchers gave each of the 3974 participants an actigraphic device to wear on their wrists which accurately measured their activity day and night for seven days. The participants were from the Progression of Early Subclinical Atherosclerosis (PESA). Their average age was around 45 and 62.6% of them were men. None of them were known to have heart disease.
Four Sleep Groups
The participants were put into one of four groups depending on how long they slept at night. The sleep fragmentation index was considered to be the total sum of the movement index and the fragmentation index. The four groups were:
- Very short sleep duration less than six hours
- Short sleep duration six to seven hours
- Reference sleep duration seven to eight hours
- Long sleep duration greater than eight hours
Cardiac Computed Tomography and 3-dimensional Vascular Ultrasound
Cardiac computed tomography and 3-dimensional vascular ultrasound were carried out on the participants to measure non-coronary atherosclerosis and coronary calcification.
Adjustments were made for conventional risk factors. Very short sleep duration of less than six hours was independently associated with a higher risk for atherosclerosis in comparison to the reference group who slept 7-8 hours. The buildup of plaque in the arteries throughout the body and not just in the heart was seen on 3-dimensional vascular ultrasound. However, according to Dr. Valentin Fuster, good quality sleep can overcome the bad effects of the shorter sleep period.
Also, poor quality disrupted sleep was associated with a raised risk for atherosclerosis.
No differences were found in any of the four groups regarding the coronary artery calcification score.
Shorter sleeping times and poor quality disrupted sleep were independently associated with an increased risk of subclinical atherosclerosis throughout the body. This shows the importance of healthy sleep habits. It shows that physical activity, a good diet and taking drugs to prevent atherosclerosis are not enough unless these measures are also accompanied by a good night’s sleep.
The study also suggested that women who slept more than eight hours had an increased risk for atherosclerosis.
Those who had shorter sleep periods or disrupted sleep were found to be associated with the consumption of alcohol and caffeine. According to Dr. José M. Ordovás, people mistakenly think that alcohol can promote a good night’s sleep, not realizing that alcohol has a rebound effect. This can keep a person from falling back to sleep if they wake up. Also, while some coffee drinkers metabolize coffee quickly, so that it will not affect their sleep patterns, those who metabolize coffee slowly may experience sleep disturbances which raises the risks for cardiovascular disease.
Previous research showed that not getting enough good quality sleep could raise risk factors for heart disease like raising blood pressure, glucose levels, inflammation and obesity. However, this study showed that independently of all these risk factors, unhealthy sleep patterns could cause the formation of atherosclerotic plaques throughout the body and not just in the heart.
More Research is Needed
The researchers say more research is needed to see if changing sleep patterns can result in different outcomes.
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Getting a good night’s sleep can go a long way to protecting the heart and blood vessels against cardiovascular disease.