Individuals who regularly have interrupted sleep are more at risk of developing heart disease compared to those with good sleeping patterns, new evidence suggests.

A study by the Vanderbilt University Medical Center has concluded that constant disrupted sleep and highly variable sleep durations can trigger atherosclerosis.

More than 2,000 older adults took part in the study, with each participant analysed for more than a week.

Those who frequently experienced broken sleep were found to have more coronary artery calcium and plaque in their carotid arteries.

In addition, those with disrupted sleeping patterns had more stiffness in their blood vessels, the study has reported.

Lead author Dr Kelsie Full said: “These results suggest that maintaining regular or habitual sleep durations, or sleeping close to the same total amount of time each night, may play an important role in preventing cardiovascular disease.”

People who work shifts were not included in the study as they are likely to have broken sleep due to their working patterns.

Additionally, individuals with pre-existing cardiovascular disease and obstructive sleep apnoea were also not allowed to take part in the trial.

Dr Full noted: “These findings suggest that doctors who encourage their patients to maintain regular sleep patterns can help them reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease.”

The authors said: “Almost all major cardiovascular functions, including heart rate, blood pressure, vascular tone, and endothelial functions, are regulated by circadian clock genes.

“Disruption or misalignment of circadian rhythms can interrupt these important cardiovascular functions, resulting in the promotion of chronic inflammation, alterations in glucose metabolism, heightened sympathetic nervous system activation, and increases in arterial pressures, all predisposing to the risk of atherosclerosis progression.”

The study has been published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

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