Link Between Sleep and Heart Health

Researchers at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island discovered a link between sleeping habits and heart health in men. According to their study, men who get less sleep than the norm can develop a thickened carotid artery wall. This thickening, called intima-media thickening or IMT, is a known marker of heart disease. Interestingly, this correlation is gender-specific; lower than normal sleep in women does not have the same effect.
 A diagram of carotid artery placement. (Source: Thomas Gray/Gray's Anatomy)
A diagram of carotid artery placement. (Source: Thomas Gray/Gray’s Anatomy)

The study, led by Brown graduate student Megan Sands, monitored the sleep of over 600 men and women between the ages of 37 and 52 located across the United States. The men in the study slept an average of 5.7 hours per night while the women slept an average of 6.3 hours.

The study also examined ultrasound tests for each participant, discovering that the men also tended to have thicker carotid artery walls than the women, 0.74 millimeters for the men versus 0.68 millimeters for the women. However, the major difference between men and women was what happened to the artery wall when subjects managed to achieve an extra hour of sleep: the carotid artery wall was 0.021 millimeters narrower on average in men while the difference for women was a mere 0.002 millimeters, negligible within the parameters of the test.

No causal link between the length of sleep and the carotid artery thickening has been reported at this time. Discovering the reason behind this phenomenon and why it only happens in men may lead to additional insight and information about the role of sleep in health and the causes of heart disease. In addition, these are preliminary results reported at a meeting of the American Heart Association and should not yet be accorded the same level of trust as studies that have been fully peer reviewed and published in a professional journal. That said, the preliminary result of a link between sleep and IMT in men seems sound.

TFOT previously reported on another study that examined the relationship between the amount of sleep we get and mortality rates over a period of 20 years. TFOT also reported on other research studies related to cardiovascular disease including the discovery of a protein that can reduce cell damage during heart attacks, the use of electric pulses to clear blocked arteries, a new medicine that helps patients adjust to stents and live a more active life once they’ve been implanted, and a new method for generating heart tissue and blood cells from skin cells.

Read more about the results of this study in this talk abstract published by the American Heart Association.