Short-term sleep deprivation can raise the risk of heart disease. The study focused on those individuals working in emergency jobs such as firefighters or paramedics. They often partake in shift work or may be required to work a 24-hour shift. Extreme fatigue is known to affect mental and physical abilities, but the researchers wanted to assess its impact on heart health, too.
Study author Daniel Kuetting explained, “For the first time, we have shown that short-term sleep deprivation in the context of 24-hour shifts can lead to a significant increase in cardiac contractility, blood pressure and heart rate.”
The researchers recruited 20 healthy radiologists who all underwent cardiovascular MRI treatment before and after a 24-hour shift.
Dr. Kuetting added, “Cardiac function in the context of sleep deprivation has not previously been investigated with CMR [cardiovascular magnetic resonance] strain analysis, the most sensitive parameter of cardiac contractility.”
Blood and urine samples were also collected from the participants along with blood pressure measurements. After a short term of sleep deprivation, the researchers detected significant increases in peak systolic strain and diastolic blood pressure of the participants. The subjects also had higher levels of thyroid and stress hormones.
“The study was designed to investigate real-life work-related sleep deprivation. While the participants were not permitted to consume caffeine or food and beverages containing theobromine, such as chocolate, nuts or tea, we did not take into account factors like individual stress level or environmental stimuli,” said Dr. Kuetting.
It’s important to understand the effects of sleep insufficiency on the heart health, because more people are working longer hours, possibly putting their hearts at risk.
How sleep deprivation is related to the heart
Sleep disorders can contribute to heart disease risk factors, as discovered by the American Heart Association (AHA). Unfortunately, the Association is still uncertain about the appropriate amount of sleep to recommend to people in order to protect their heart.
Marie-Pierre St-Onge from the AHA said in a news release, “We know that short sleep, usually defined as under seven hours per night, overly long sleep, usually defined as more than nine hours per night, and sleep disorders may increase some cardiovascular risk factors, but we don’t know if improving sleep quality reduces those risk factors.”
The scientists reviewed existing research on sleep and heart health. Majority of the studies focused on insomnia, which is difficulty sleeping for at least three nights a week over the course of three months or more. Another area of study was sleep apnea, a condition in which a person stops breathing for a moment a few times a night while asleep. “Those are the two main conditions in which there are intervention studies that show that risk factors are increased when sleep is altered,” added St-Onge.
Additional research is required to determine whether sleep plays a role in cholesterol, triglycerides, and other signs of inflammation.
St-Onge suggests that practitioners ask patients about their sleep and snoring.
“Patients need to be aware that adequate sleep is important, just as being physically active and eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, and fish are important for cardiovascular health. Sleep is another type of ammunition that we can tailor to improve health,” St-Onge explained.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute suggests that nearly 50 to 70 million Americans suffer with a sleep disorder or do not get adequate sleep on a nightly basis. Sleep deprivation can contribute to various health complications, so keeping an eye on your sleep quality and working to improve your sleep can greatly benefit your health.
Related: 3 ways you can start sleeping better