The researchers measured the loss of sleep both objectively and subjectively. They found out that there is a link between the thickening of the artery walls and the building up of plaque in the blood vessels.
A lead researcher and director of the Women’s Biobehavioral Health Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh, Rebecca Thurston said that the research results show that short or poor sleep leads to an increase in heart attack and stroke. She added that the increased risk is between moderate and small, it is not large.
However, she said she was unable to explain this link and pointed out that this study was not a proof of sleep causing a rise in heart risks.
How the study was done
In order for the researchers to conduct the study, they assessed 256 women between the age of 40 and 60. These women were provided with wrist monitors to keep track of their sleep patterns for three days. They were then given questionnaires to which they responded regarding their sleep quality and mood of the day. Apart from that, their blood was also tested and artery ultrasounds done.
All the participating women had no history of heart disease and none of them had night shifts, took hormone therapy or depended on sleep medications.
Findings of the study
For each hour that the participants lost, they recorded a buildup on the blood vessel plaque. For the women sleeping only 5 to 6 hours per night, their artery wall thickening was the largest. Longer sleep that lasted for over 7 hours was not protective either. Women who reported they slept poorly had more thickening of the vessels.
This relationship was still available even after the researchers brought in issues like mood. Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum said that this poor sleep and heart disease risk is a link that may have been known for quite a while. However, this study provides additional valuable information because it includes subjective and objective measures of sleep.
Thurston said that they measured things in the study to try and give an explanation of why sleep may be linked to cardiovascular disease risk. However, that failed to give a candid explanation of the association they found out.
Steinbaum is the director of Women’s Heart Health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. She said that “We know that with lack of sleep there is an increased risk of high blood pressure, there is an increased risk of obesity, inflammatory markers go up and stress hormones go up.”
Sleep problem is usually more pronounced during menopause
She said that menopause is a time when the cardiovascular risk is raised. “Whether sleep problems help explain the accelerations in cardiovascular disease risk during the menopause transition, we do not know, but we will be looking into that question in future work.”