A group of researchers found that the chronically sleep-deprived population such as shift workers has a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.
The study, which was published this week in the journal Hypertension, revealed that sleep loss can disturb the body’s circadian rhythms which can later lead to cardiovascular conditions.
The research involved 26 healthy volunteers who agreed to sleep just five hours for eight days in a row. The average age of the study participants was 29.5. While some volunteers had to go to sleep at fixed bedtimes, others had to delay their bedtimes for more than eight hours during the last half of the study period.
Researchers found that both groups had a higher heart rate during daytime due to sleep loss. The group that had delayed bedtimes had a higher heart rate at nigh too. Plus, the second group had higher levels of the stress hormone norepinephrine in their urine samples. High levels of norepinephrine are associated with hypertension and constriction of blood vessels.
The group with delayed bedtimes also had lower vagal activity, which means that the body was unable to properly lower heart rate.
Dr. Daniela Grimaldi, senior researcher involved in the latest analysis and professor at Northwestern University, explained that both humans and animals have an internal clock in their brains which regulates bodily processes during the sleep-wake cycle.
Grimaldi added that when the bodily processes are not in line with the rhythms set by the internal clock diseases can develop. Sleep loss is a problem for shift workers who also face delayed bedtimes and thus have the highest risk of heart disease and stroke.
In the West, shift workers account for 15 to 30 percent of a country’s workforce. Grimaldi and her team concluded that shift workers do not benefit from the restorative effects of a good night rest because of shift-work rotations.
Still, shift workers are not the only ones facing a high cardiovascular risk. The modern lifestyle has pushed many people into delaying their sleep and staying active when they are supposed to be asleep. People who have consecutive days of sleep deprivation boost their heart disease risk as well.
But because shift workers cannot quit their jobs, researchers recommend a healthy lifestyle to offset the ill effects of sleep deprivation. Shift workers could eat better, exercise more and recover the lost sleep during daytime, study authors say.
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