We work hard and we play hard often wreaking havoc with our sleep schedule. Recently a large amount of research has shown a link between sleep issues and heart disease, metabolic disorders, and weight gain. Most research has been unclear as to why sleep loss leads to these problems. In a recent study conducted at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, researchers found that reducing sleep length over two consecutive nights lead to less healthy vascular function and impaired breathing control. The researchers took eight healthy adult volunteers between the ages of 20 to 35. On the first two nights of the study, the researchers allowed the volunteers to sleep eight hours. Then, rather than restrict their sleep completely, the researchers instead had them sleep only four hours during each of three consecutive nights. Each of these volunteers underwent tests to how well their blood vessels flowed and worked. After the first two nights of restricted sleep, the researchers found a significant reduction in vascular function compared to following the nights of normal sleep. However, after the third night of sleep restriction, vascular function returned to baseline, possibly an adaptive response to acute sleep loss, researchers explained.
In other tests, the researchers exposed subjects to moderately high levels of carbon dioxide, which normally increases the depth and rate of breathing. Findings showed that breathing control was substantially reduced after the volunteers lost sleep. Later the researchers asked the volunteers to sleep 10 hours a night for five nights. The same two vascular function and breathing tests were given and, results showed that all subjects improved in both areas. The research results could suggest a mechanism behind the connection between sleep loss and cardiovascular disease.
If acute sleep loss occurs repetitively over a long period of time, then vascular health could be compromised further and eventually cause the development of cardiovascular disease the researchers explain. Likewise, the loss of breathing control that the researchers observed could play a role in the development of sleep apnea, which has also been linked with cardiovascular disease. More studies are required to show the correlation between health issues and lack of sleep, but there is certainly some strong evidence showing that a minimum of 8 hours of sleep per day is important to your overall health. If you're having sleep issues for any reason, it is important to figure out why and address the issues causing the sleep disturbances so that you maintain optimal health.