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Jul 28, 2016

Sleep Deprivation Takes a Toll on Heart Health

Many studies show that a lack of sleep can have a negative impact on heart health, but few have determined why.

Working night shifts and not getting enough sleep leads to increased risk for heart disease, according to a recent study that found a direct link between altered sleep patterns and impaired heart function.

Published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension, this study looked at the causal link between poor sleep habits and increased heart risks. Many studies have found that a lack of sleep can have a negative impact on heart health, but few have determined why.

To learn more, researchers tested various sleep patterns in 26 healthy young adults. For one week, all participants were restricted to five hours of sleep per day. To mimic sleep patterns of shift workers, half of participants slept during the day on four occasions rather than at night. During the study, researchers closely tracked participant’s heart rate, blood pressure and a stress hormone called norepinephrine.

Overall, researchers found that not getting enough sleep increased daytime heart rate in all participants. Both groups also experienced increases in the stress hormone norepinephrine, which can constrict blood vessels and increase blood pressure. However, changes in heart rate and norepinephrine were more pronounced in participants that slept during the day rather than at night. Authors explain that over time, such impaired function can lead to increased cardiovascular risk.

Authors also note that there was no significant change in blood pressure in either group, which was likely due to the short duration of the study.

The take-home message, according to authors, is that our bodies have an automatic negative response to not getting enough sleep and having interrupted sleep patterns. It’s possible that for shift workers, the body never fully recovers from their changing work schedules and disrupted sleep patterns.

As a result, authors highlight the importance of getting the recommended 7–9 hours of sleep each night to promote better health. Taking steps to promote better heart health like through exercise and a healthy diet is also key, particularly for shift workers who can’t avoid disrupted sleep patterns. By maintaining healthy sleep habits and healthy lifestyle choices, we can help reduce risk for heart disease and promote better health.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Why does shift work affect heart health?

  • Many studies have shown that shift work can have a negative effect on the heart and overall health. Irregular hours are not conducive to a heart-healthy lifestyle, like eating healthy and staying physically active. They can also put added stress on the body, which can increase blood pressure, heart rate and heart health.
  • How can I reduce my risk for heart disease?
  • Healthy lifestyle choices are key to reducing risk for heart disease. By eating a heart-healthy diet and staying physically active, you can help significantly reduce heart disease risk. Knowing your numbers—body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar—and family history is also important so that you can address any risk factors you may have for heart disease.

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