Sleep Irregularity May Increase Risk of Heart Disease, Study Finds

According to a recent study, those with chronically disrupted sleep patterns might have an increased risk of developing atherosclerosis, a condition where plaque builds up on artery walls, often leading to cardiovascular disease.

Published in the Journal of the Americans Heart Association, the study sought to better understand how sleep quality impacts the risk of cardiovascular disease risk. To do this, a team of researchers led by Kelsie Full, PhD, MPH, of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, analyzed the relationship between sleep habits and atherosclerosis.

Included in the study were 2,032 older, racially and ethnically diverse adults from six communities in the United States. Shift workers, people with existing heart conditions, and those with obstructive sleep apnea were excluded from the investigation. The participants’ sleep duration and regularity were monitored for seven days. In addition, they each underwent assessments of coronary artery calcium, carotid plaque presence, carotid intima-media thickness, and ankle-brachial index.

Results showed that participants with greater irregularity in their sleep duration were more likely to have higher levels of coronary artery calcium, plaque in their carotid arteries, and greater atherosclerosis and stiffness in their blood vessels.

“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.

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According to the study’s authors, the association between disrupted sleep and increased cardiovascular disease risk is most likely due to a misalignment in circadian rhythm.

“Almost all major cardiovascular functions, including heart rate, blood pressure, vascular tone, and endothelial functions, are regulated by circadian clock genes,” the authors wrote.

Future investigations, researchers noted, should explore interventions that target sleep irregularity to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.