If you think even a couple sleepless nights won’t hurt you, think again. Researchers have found as little as two consecutive nights of sleep deprivation can put unhealthy stress on your heart.
The findings, reported by medical scientists from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, are based on a study of partial sleep deprivation on eight healthy individuals. The results, presented at an Experimental Biology scientific meeting in Boston this week, showed that just two back-to-back nights of sleep deprivation lead to less healthy function of blood vessels and impaired breathing control.
The findings may help explain why sleep deprivation is associated with cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders, and obesity.
"If acute sleep loss occurs repetitively over a long period of time, then vascular health could be compromised further and eventually mediate the development of cardiovascular disease," noted lead researcher Keith Pugh.
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For the study, the researchers tracked eight healthy adult volunteers, aged 20 to 35 years, whose sleep was restricted to only four hours on each of three consecutive nights. The volunteers underwent tests to see how well their blood vessels accommodated an increase in blood flow — a test of healthy vascular function. Following the first two nights of restricted sleep, the researchers found a significant reduction in vascular function compared to nights of normal sleep.
In other tests, the researchers exposed subjects to moderate levels of carbon dioxide, which normally increases the depth and rate of breathing. The results showed breathing control was substantially reduced after the volunteers lost sleep.
The researchers later had the study participants sleep 10 hours a night for five nights and found their vascular function and breathing control had improved.
Pugh said the findings suggest some people who tend to report sleeping shorter periods, , such as seniors, could be at a higher risk of these negative health effects.
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