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Are Hardened Arteries a Risk Factor for Poor Slumber?

HealthDay News
by -- Steven Reinberg
Updated: Jun 12th 2020

new article illustration

FRIDAY, June 12, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- If you can't sleep well at night, the problem may be rooted in hardened arteries, a new study suggests.

"We've discovered that fragmented sleep is associated with a unique pathway -- chronic circulating inflammation throughout the bloodstream -- which, in turn, is linked to higher amounts of plaques in coronary arteries," said researcher Matthew Walker. He's a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley.

Poor sleep is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which is the number one killer of Americans, claiming about 12,000 lives each week.

For the study, the researchers used a statistical model to analyze data on more than 1,600 middle-aged and older adults who were part of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

The investigators found a clear link between disrupted sleep and higher concentrations of inflammatory factors, specifically, white blood cells and neutrophils, which play a role in atherosclerosis.

"In revealing this link with chronic inflammation, the findings suggest a missing middleman that is brokering the bad deal between fragmented sleep and the hardening of blood vessels," Walker said in a university news release.

The findings have public health implications, the study authors noted. Atherosclerosis often begins in early adulthood but usually remains undetected until it affects the flow of blood to the heart or other organs. So, paying attention to sleep patterns may help find atherosclerosis in its early stages.

"This link between fragmented sleep and chronic inflammation may not be limited to heart disease, but could include mental health and neurological disorders, such as major depression and Alzheimer's disease," Walker said. "These are new avenues we must now explore."

Here are some tips to improve sleep:

  • Keep a regular sleep routine, going to bed and waking up at the same time each day.
  • Stop using your smartphone, tablet, TV, or computer an hour before bedtime and keep these devices out of the bedroom.
  • Exercise every day.
  • Get natural daylight, especially in the first half of the day.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol later in the day.
  • If you have trouble falling asleep, get out of bed and do an activity, such as reading. Don't go back to bed until you're sleepy.
  • If you're a heavy snorer or feel excessively tired during the day, get screened for sleep apnea.
  • If you have insomnia, see your doctor and ask about cognitive behavioral therapy.

The report was published online June 4 in PLOS Biology.

More information

The Sleep Foundation has more about healthy sleep.