Heart health: Weekend rest no buffer for work week sleep loss

Evan Walker
Evan Walker TheMediTary.Com |
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Making up for insufficient weeknight sleep during the weekend may not lessen its cardiovascular impact. Image credit: Maria Korneeva/Getty Images.
  • A new study found that when sleep is restricted to 5 hours per night, heart rate and blood pressure worsen over the course of the week in young men.
  • Researchers found that attempting to get extra sleep over the 2 nights of the weekend may be insufficient to dial back the hits to an individual’s cardiovascular health.
  • Researchers measured participants’ heart rate and blood pressure multiple times throughout the day.
  • The participants’ heart rates and systolic blood pressure changed with each day of too little sleep and did not return to baseline by the end of the recovery period.

A third of adults in the United States report getting less than the recommended amount of sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A new study led by researchers at Penn State suggests that when sleep is restricted during the work week, it may impact an individual’s heart rate and systolic blood pressure.

Additionally, the research suggests attempts to catch up on sleep over the weekend may not be enough to bring back cardiovascular health back to baseline.

The research was published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

An interest in the effects of sleep on cardiovascular health drove David Reichenberger, a graduate student in biobehavioral health at Penn State, to design this study.

For the research, he used data sourced by Dr. Anne-Marie Chang, associate professor of biobehavioral Health at Penn State, who had conducted an 11-day inpatient sleep study a few years ago.

For the study, participants went from sleeping up to 10 hours a night to being restricted to 5 hours a night over 5 nights.

“I just really wanted to see what are the effects during this potential work week on someone’s blood pressure and heart rate,” Reichenberger explained to Medical News Today.

Researchers recruited 15 healthy men between the ages of 20 and 35 who lived in Pennsylvania. They excluded participants who had medical or mental health diagnoses, took medicine or drugs, had a recent history of shift work, or had traveled across more than two time zones within the previous three months.

Participants were also excluded if during a screening, they showed risk factors of cardiovascular disease.

Prior to the study, participants met with a psychologist who determined whether they were likely to be able to tolerate 11 days of inpatient study.

For a week before patients came to the Clinical Research Center at Penn State to complete the study they were asked to be in bed from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. and asked to keep a log of sleep and wake times.

At the research center, participants stayed in private rooms that were sound-dampened with no windows. During scheduled wake periods, participants were not allowed to sit on lay on the bed or to exercise.

Researchers exposed participants to low lighting during wake periods and darkness during sleep opportunities. A dietician designed a menu of weighed foods, which were limited in sodium, that provided three meals a day.

On the first three nights of the study, participants could sleep between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. On the fourth night, participants could sleep between 12:30 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. This continued for 5 consecutive nights.

“And so this is really simulating an adult’s work week,” Reichenberger told MNT. “They may be self-restricting their sleep, just to go to bed later or get up earlier for work.”

On the final two nights, participants again could sleep between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Approximately every 2 hours during the day, researchers measured the participants’ resting heart rates and blood pressure.

Dr. Hani Aiash, a cardiologist and assistant dean of interprofessional research in the College of Health Professions at Upstate Medical University, not involved in this research, pointed out several limitations of the study to MNT.

A key shortcoming of the research, he said, is that the study did not have a control group.

The absence of a control group, the study’s co-authors agree in their paper, challenges their ability “to disentangle the true effects of sleep restriction from effects due to experimental procedures unrelated to cardiac activity.”

Dr. Aiash pointed out that participants who spend nearly 2 weeks living at a laboratory might not behave the same way as they would in their homes.

“If you stay inpatient, [the] first day and second day you will sleep okay,” Dr. Aiash said. “At 11 days, you will feel bored and anxious. Your heart rate will increase. Your blood pressure will increase.”

Another limitation of the study, Dr. Aiash noted, was that all the participants were Healthy young men.

Initially, the 11-day inpatient sleep study was conducted to look at the effects of sleep restriction on metabolism. To do this research, Dr. Chang explained to MNT, the researchers elected not to recruit female participants.

“Because the menstrual cycle has an effect on sleep and on [the] cardiometabolic outcome, we wanted to initially just study men,” she said.

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