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Dublin: 15°C Thursday 18 August 2022

Irish researcher tells why lack of sleep is bad for the heart

It’s not so much your blood pressure, as it is how sleep deprivation affects how blood pumps around your body. Yes, science.

Don't be that guy.
Don't be that guy.
Image: sleeping via Shutterstock

NOT GETTING ENOUGH sleep is bad for the heart.

That much is certain, according to Professor Jack James from NUI Galway. Studies already show, he says, that sleep deprivation in the most extreme cases can lead to hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

However, this link has long puzzled medical researchers because other studies find that sleep deprivation has little effect on blood pressure. “This appears contradictory,” said Prof James, “because blood pressure level is a major predictor of cardiovascular health.”

To go towards figuring out this paradox, Prof James carried out a number of experiments with funding from the Health Research Board. Rather than focusing on blood pressure levels, they analysed what happened to a person’s ‘haemodynamic’ profile when they did or didn’t get sleep. (Haemodynamic profile is what processes happen in your body to control blood being pumped around it.)

And it was here that sleep deprivation actually did make a difference – in the short term at least. From observation of the negative reaction lack of sleep had on circulatory processes, Prof James believes he may have hit on something.

Let’s get him to explain:

We believe that the short-term effects of sleep deprivation on haemodynamic profile may activate atherosclerotic processes or ‘hardening of the arteries’ that, if continued over time, contribute to the development of hypertension, or increased blood pressure, and other cardiovascular pathology.

The findings can now help to inform health promotion and clinical management strategies that focus on the relationship between sleep and cardiovascular disease.

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