Study shows links among poor sleep, high blood pressure, gut microbiome

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In a new study published in the journal Physiological Genomics, researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago found associations among disrupted sleep, elevated blood pressure, and changes in the gut microbiome.

The research aimed to determine whether a 28-day period of disrupted sleep changed the microbiota in rats. The gut microbiota refers to the collection of microorganisms living in the intestines. The researchers also sought to identify biological features associated with undesirable arterial blood pressure changes.

Using rats, the researcher disrupted their sleep periods. Rats are nocturnal, so the experiments were designed to interfere with their daytime sleep periods, the researchers said. Telemetry transmitters measured the rats' brain activity, blood pressure and heart rate. Fecal matter also was analyzed to examine changes in the microbial content.

When rats had an abnormal sleep schedule, an increase in blood pressure developed, and remained elevated even when they could return to normal sleep. Undesirable changes also were found in the gut microbiome.

The researchers found that the gut microbiome changes did not happen immediately, but instead took a week to show unfavorable responses such as an imbalance among different types of bacteria including an increase in microbes associated with inflammation.

This was initial research, and studies will continue to examine pathways involving the gut microbiome and metabolites produced by gut bacteria. The researchers will see exactly how sleep characteristics are changed and how long blood pressure and gut microbiome alterations persist. Researchers will then determine how this information translates to humans.

"We hope to find an intervention that can help people who are at risk for cardiovascular disease because of their work and sleep schedules,” said Anne Fink, PhD FAHA, assistant professor in the Department of Biobehavioral Nursing Science, in a statement. “People will always have responsibilities that interrupt their sleep. We want to be able to reduce their risk by targeting the microbiome with new therapies or dietary changes.”