Sleep Prevents Heart Disease: Mass General

Massachusetts General Hospital – Getting enough sleep is key to good health, and studies have shown that insufficient sleep increases the risk of serious problems, including cardiovascular disease.

[NOTE: While studies in mice are far from a perfect reflection of human health, this one may be useful and certainly cannot cause any harm. – Ed.]

Now Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators have discovered one way that sleep protects against the buildup of arterial plaques called atherosclerosis.

In their paper receiving advance online publication in Nature, they describe the mechanism by which insufficient sleep increases production of inflammatory white blood cells known to be major contributors to atherosclerosis.

According to Filip Swirski, PhD, of the MGH Center for Systems Biology, senior author of the Nature paper:

“We have discovered that sleep helps to regulate the production in the bone marrow of inflammatory cells and the health of blood vessels and that, conversely, sleep disruption breaks down control of inflammatory cell production, leading to more inflammation and more heart disease.

“We also have identified how a hormone in the brain known to control wakefulness controls processes in the bone marrow and protects against cardiovascular disease.”

To investigate how insufficient sleep increases atherosclerosis, Swirski’s team subjected mice genetically programmed to develop atherosclerosis to repeated interruptions of their sleep, similar to the experience of someone constantly waking up because of noise or discomfort.

While there were no changes in weight, cholesterol levels or glucose tolerance in the sleep-deprived mice, compared to animals from the same strain allowed to sleep normally, those subjected to sleep fragmentation developed larger arterial plaques and had higher levels of monocytes and neutrophils – inflammatory cells that contribute to atherosclerosis – in their blood vessels.

Further experiments revealed that the sleep-deprived mice had a nearly two-fold increase in the production in their bone marrow of stem cells that give rise to white blood cells. Read more. 

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