A clinical  study shows that people who sleep little are more likely to suffer from atherosclerosis

A study by the National Center for Cardiovascular Research (CNIC) has just shown that sleeping poorly could have a direct impact on your cardiovascular health. Specifically, the researchers led by Jose Maria Ordovas who combines his work at the CNIC with the management of the Center for Nutrition and Genomics at Tufts University (USA) – have found that people who sleep less than six hours a night or present a very fragmented sleep have more risk of developing atherosclerosis plaques in the arteries than those who rest more or better. Atherosclerosis is caused by the accumulation of fatty substances inside blood vessels and is the first step of problems such as heart attacks or strokes, which are due to the blockage of oxygen supply to certain areas of the body by vascular occlusion. “Our results demonstrate the importance that the quantity and quality of sleep have on cardiovascular health, the lack of one or the other considerably increases the risk of developing atherosclerosis, therefore improving its quality should be both a personal objective and recommendations directed to the population “, explains Ordovás, who points out that sleep could be, along with diet, exercise or drugs, another of the tools available to reduce the chances of suffering from a vascular problem. “What was associated with a lower risk was about eight hours of restful sleep,” says the researcher. However, qualifies, it is also demonstrated “that each individual has particular requirements that can vary the optimal point in one direction or another”.

It is not the first time that a study associates the lack of sleep with an increased risk of heart problems, recognizes the specialist. But research is a pioneer in objectively analyzing the duration and quality of sleep since, until now, most studies had been based on self-questionnaires in which each participant captured their perception. In this case, the almost 4,000 individuals who participated in the study carried with them for a week an actimetry sensor designed to monitor their activity levels as well as their hours and rest levels. All of them, with an average age of 46 years, were healthy, they were bank employees and they are part of the PESA CNIC-Santander study, directed by the director of the CNIC, Valentín Fuster, whose objective is to improve the knowledge of the progression of cardiovascular disease.

After being divided into groups based on their sleep hours, participants underwent two state-of-the-art imaging tests to check the condition of their arteries. The results of this analysis, which also took into account the existence of other risk factors, such as obesity, smoking or high cholesterol levels, showed that those who slept less than six hours presented -independently of other conditioning factors- 27% more likely to have atherosclerosis in their femoral and carotid arteries than those who slept between seven and eight hours. In addition, the data also showed that this risk was increased by 34% in the case of participants who suffered a worse quality sleep (with more awakenings and superficial). On the other hand, no significant differences were found between the groups regarding the state of their coronary arteries, those in charge of watering the heart; a fact whose causes are still unknown and researchers will continue to try to find out. In their study, the researchers also observed that women who slept more than eight hours a day also had an increased risk of atherosclerosis, although the percentage of participants who fulfilled these characteristics was too low to draw statistically significant conclusions. Overall, the data show that “the quality of sleep is more important than the number of hours that sleep,” says Valentin Fuster, who is enthusiastic about an investigation that allows to see the beginning of the disease in a stage, the subclinical, in which he has not yet faced. “Medicine is entering a fascinating stage, before we tried to understand how diseases work, but now we are beginning to understand what health is so we can detect problems prematurely and try to stop them,” he adds.

n the other hand, the research also observed that participants who slept little and had poor quality sleep also tended to score higher on different scales of cardiovascular risk and to exhibit unhealthy habits, such as alcohol consumption. “We know that they are not totally isolated factors,” says Ordovás. “Good nutrition and good physical activity will promote a better night’s sleep and vice versa, a good sleep will contribute to better nutrition and exercise,” explains the researcher, who cites several examples: “A connection has been established between the duration of sleep and obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and, as we have seen in the present study, cardiovascular disease, and this connection may be mediated in part by diet. “” Scientific evidence has shown associations between short-term sleep and increased calorie intake, high-fat foods and, in general, lower-quality diets, although, with more limited evidence, it has been associated with lower fruit intakes. ” For all this, “taking into account the epidemiological relationships cited and the evidence of the causal relationships between loss of sleep and metabolism and cardiovascular function, health promotion strategies should emphasize the improvement of sleep as an additional factor in health and weight control, “he says. In any case, the researcher points out that it is necessary to continue investigating and “deepen in this field with intervention studies in which the benefit of improving sleep over cardiovascular disease and the risk factors associated with it is demonstrated”. At this point, Daniel J. Gottlieb and Deepak L. Bhatt, authors of the editorial accompanying the research in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC) agree: “We need those studies to place sleep safely, together with the diet and exercise, as pillars of a healthy lifestyle. ” In addition, these researchers claim that studies analyze the causes why people sleep little or badly. It is not the same nor can it be tackled in the same way , they conclude, the lack of sleep due to the will of the individual (because he wants to continue seeing a series, for example) than the one derived from anxiety or insomnia problems.

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