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Rough sleep is bad for your mind—and your heart. It can increase the risk of clogged arteries, which can lead to stroke or heart attacks. But how these two things are connected has been a mystery. Now, a study in mice reveals a link, based on signals the brain sends to bone marrow. If the story holds true in humans, the mechanism could help explain the connection between sleep and other conditions, from obesity to cancer.
“Not everyone who is sleep-deprived develops cardiovascular disease,” says Namni Goel, a behavioral neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia who was not involved in the work. The new mouse work “opens the door for human studies” that could sort out who is most at risk.
Forms - Disease - Deposits - Artery - Walls
In many forms of cardiovascular disease, fatty deposits build up on artery walls (a condition called atherosclerosis) and can rupture to cause a stroke or heart attack. Immune cells—in particular, white blood cells called monocytes—also play a key role. They flock to sites where these deposits have damaged blood vessels and they spawn cells that can contribute to the growing plaque. To follow up on the known connection between sleep and heart disease, immunologist Filip Swirski of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston wanted to explore whether sleep somehow triggered an immune process that spurs this dangerous buildup.
He and his colleagues studied mice that were genetically prone to arterial plaques. To disrupt sleep, they put a mouse in a cage where a metal bar periodically slid across the floor during the 12 daytime hours when mice normally rest. Every 2 minutes, the mouse would feel the nudge of the moving bar and wake up to step over it. While that sounds pretty miserable, Swirski notes that this is one of the...
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