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Chronic Mild Sleep Deprivation Increases Endothelial Cell Oxidative Stress

A woman sleeping in bed.
Credit: Kinga Howard / Unsplash.
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Does this sound like you? You wake up at the same time each morning, get the kids out the door, and rush to catch the subway to work. But at night, maybe you stay up until midnight doing laundry or 1 a.m. to catch up on the bills.

Lots of Americans—about one-third of us—are in the same situation and habitually get only five to six hours of sleep instead of the recommended seven to eight hours.

But even a mild chronic sleep deficit may heighten the risk of developing heart disease later in life: Surveys of thousands of people have found that people who report mild but chronic sleep deficits have more heart disease later in life than people who get adequate sleep.

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A new Columbia study of women now shows what’s happening in the body during chronic mild sleep deprivation.

Previous studies did not examine chronic sleep deficits

Studies of human sleep have examined the physiological effects of a few nights of profound sleep deprivation.

“But that’s not how people behave night after night. Most people get up around the same time each day but tend to push back their bedtime one to two hours,” Jelic says. “We wanted to mimic that behavior, which is the most common sleep pattern we see in adults.”

The researchers screened nearly 1,000 women in Washington Heights for the study, enrolling 35 healthy women who normally sleep seven to eight hours each night who could complete the 12-week study.

For six weeks the women slept according to their usual routine; for the other six weeks they went to bed 1.5 hours later than usual. Each participant’s sleep was verified with wrist-worn sleep trackers.

Bottom line: Just go to sleep

“Many problems could be solved if people sleep at least seven to eight hours per night,” Jelic says.

“People who are young and healthy need to know that if they keep getting less sleep than that, they're aggravating their cardiovascular risk.”

Next steps

Recent epidemiological studies suggest that inconsistent bedtimes may raise the risk of heart disease. Jelic’s team is designing a study to see if bedtime variability impacts vascular cells in the same way as chronic, but regular, short sleep.

Reference: Shah R, Shah VK, Emin M, et al. Mild sleep restriction increases endothelial oxidative stress in female persons. Sci Rep. 2023;13(1):15360. doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-42758-y

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