on February 15, followed 2,032 elderly, racially and culturally diverse people from six locations across the United States.
Participants with greater irregularity in their sleep duration were more likely to have a higher burden of coronary artery calcium, more plaque in their carotid arteries, and greater systemic atherosclerosis and stiffness in their blood vessels, commonly referred to as “hardening of the arteries” when monitored over seven days.
“These results suggest that maintaining regular or habitual sleep durations, or sleeping close to the same total amount of time each night, may play an important role in preventing cardiovascular disease,” said Full, a former postdoctoral fellow at the University of Minnesota who joined the Vanderbilt faculty last year as assistant professor of Medicine in the Division of Epidemiology.
Participants in the MESA Sleep Ancillary Study came from St. Paul, Minnesota, Baltimore, Chicago, Forsyth County, North Carolina, Los Angeles County, California, and northern Manhattan and the Bronx, New York.
The study excluded shift workers, who are more likely to have irregular sleep patterns, as well as individuals who had pre-existing heart disease and obstructive sleep apnea, which is a known risk factor for coronary artery disease.
Variable Sleep Duration Affects Coronary and Peripheral Arteries
Those with more variable sleep durations in the study were more likely to have atherosclerosis in the coronary and peripheral arteries. According to Full, these findings imply that doctors who encourage their patients to keep regular sleep patterns can help them lower their risk of cardiovascular disease.
Disruption of Circadian Rhythm Affects Heart Health
Disruption of the body’s circadian rhythm may be the link between disrupted sleep and cardiovascular disease. “Almost all major cardiovascular functions, including heart rate, blood pressure, vascular tone, and endothelial functions, are regulated by circadian clock genes,” the researchers reported.
“Disruption or misalignment of circadian rhythms,” they wrote, “can interrupt these important cardiovascular functions, resulting in the promotion of chronic inflammation, alterations in glucose metabolism, heightened sympathetic nervous system activation, and increases in arterial pressures, all predisposing to the risk of atherosclerosis progression.”
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