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The short-term consequences of sleep disruption are well-documented, but the long-term complications for vessels have remained less obvious. Disturbances have been known to cause an increase in the protein CPR, a common marker of inflammation. New findings now suggest that shift work that causes irregularities in sleep patterns could spell trouble for the arteries.
The latest findings suggest that shift work “raises the risk of potentially fatal hardened arteries”, also known as atherosclerosis.
Findings from the study of 45 people showed that irregular sleeping patterns, associated with shift work, could have deleterious effects on the vessels.
Atherosclerosis is diagnosed when there is a build-up of fats, cholesterol and other substances in the arterial walls.
It becomes dangerous when blood flow is hindered or plaque breaks off and causes an obstruction elsewhere in the body.
If a blood vessel leading to the brain or heart becomes blocked, for example, this could result in a stroke or heart attack.
The lead author of the study, Doctor Kelsie Full, of Vanderbilt University Medical care, explained that the study was one of the first to provide proof of a link between irregular sleep patterns to the condition.
She said: “This study is one of the first investigations to provide evidence of a connection between irregular sleep duration and irregular sleep timing and atherosclerosis.”
Researchers said that maintaining a consistent sleep pattern could be key to staving off the life-threatening complication.
All of the participants in the study, aged around 69 years, were asked to wear a wrist device between 2010 and 2013 to detect when they slept or were awake.
Volunteers also had to complete a sleep diary for seven consecutive dates.
A one-off sleep study allowed researchers to measure sleep disorders involving breathing, sleep stages, waking after sleep onset and heart rate.
Sleep duration was defined as the total amount of time spent in bed fully asleep, while sleep timing was described as the time it took to fall asleep.
The greatest irregularity in sleep duration was a variation of more than two hours within one week.
When it came to the time it took for participants to fall asleep, irregularity varied by more than 90 minutes within one week.
After gauging the presence of plaque in the participants’ arteries, researchers scored the amount of calcified plaque inside the arteries.
Participants with sleep durations that varied by more than two hours within a week were 1.4 times more likely to have high artery calcium scores, compared to participants with consistent sleep durations.
These same participants were 1.12 times more likely to have carotid plaque and were nearly twice as likely to have abnormal results from an ankle-brachial index.
The test measures atherosclerotic stiffness in the blood vessels by comparing blood pressure in the ankle to blood pressure in the arm.
Doctor Full noted: “Maintaining regular sleep schedules and decreasing variability in sleep is an easily adjustable lifestyle behaviour that can not only help improve sleep but also help reduce the cardiovascular risk for ageing adults.”
According to guidelines, adults should aim for between seven to nine hours of sleep per night for adequate healing and a lower risk of chronic disease.
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