Even Mild Sleep Problems Can Raise Risk Of Heart Disease In Women, Finds Study

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We know that not getting enough sleep is already linked to a slew of health concerns, both physical and mental, with cardiovascular health high on the list. Now a new study shows that even mild sleep issues, like difficulty falling and staying asleep, elevates risk of cardiovascular disease in women.

The study examined 323 healthy women who wore wristwatch-like devices that measured and tracked their sleep habits and total amount of sleep each night. The women who experienced mild sleep disturbances, including delays in falling asleep and waking up during the night, were significantly more likely to have high blood pressure than those who fell sleep quickly and slept soundly.

As a follow-up analysis, some of the women volunteered to allow the researchers to extract endothelial cells from a vein in their arms to look for elevated levels of a protein that plays a role in inflammation linked to heart disease. That analysis turned up an association between mild sleep issues and higher levels of the protein.

“Our findings suggest that mild sleep problems could possibly initiate the vascular endothelial inflammation that’s a significant contributor to cardiovascular disease,” said lead study author Brooke Aggarwal, EdD, a behavioral scientist in the Department of Medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. She added that an ongoing clinical trial would be necessary to confirm those findings.

The results of this study are especially concerning because they held true even for women who were sleeping anywhere from seven to nine hours a night—what would normally be considered a healthy range. And most women in the study didn’t have major problems like obstructive sleep apnea, which is already strongly associated with cardiovascular disease.

Previous research suggests that women are especially susceptible to sleep issues, including chronic insomnia, at a rate nearly twice as high as men. While it’s not possible to isolate every factor that could have influenced the outcome in this study, the results line up with prior studies suggesting a link between sleep quality and heart health, particularly for women.

“Studies have shown that sleep deprivation and milder sleep problems may have a disproportionate effect on cardiovascular health in women,” added Aggarwal.

These results, like those from several other studies of sleep and overall health, place additional emphasis not only on sleeping enough each night, but also trying to improve quality of sleep. Falling asleep quickly and minimizing disturbances may be just as important as sleeping an adequate number of hours.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

You can find David DiSalvo on Twitter, FacebookGoogle Plus, and at his website,daviddisalvo.org.

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