Your Heart Needs More Sleep
By Kate Gardner
Sleep can do really wonderful things. It's good for your heart, your brain, your mood, and your hormones. If you don't get enough sleep, you may be at a greater risk for developing heart disease or diabetes and your immune system may not work as well as it should. I've always assumed that sleep is good for you because when you're rested, you tend to be less stressed and more likely to make good decisions, like eating well and exercising. But new research is shining a light on some of the very specific ways sleep impacts your heart health.
Doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital wanted to look at the connection between getting too little sleep and atherosclerosis (the harmful buildup of plaque in your arteries' walls). As scientists often do, they chose to first look at the problem in mice. One group of mice had their sleep frequently interrupted, much like our's might be when we're not getting a good night's sleep. Another group of mice slept regularly, without interruption.
The mice who had their sleep interrupted had larger plaques in their arteries and more basophils and monocytes in their blood. Basophils and monocytes are both types of white blood cells -- the kind that your immune system might send out when it senses something is wrong. It's not unusual to have some basophils and monocytes in your blood, but too many can be a sign that something is wrong and can contribute to atherosclerosis.
Looking deeper, the researchers found the sleep-deprived mice had overactive bone marrow that was making more of the stem cells which later become white blood cells. They suspect that interrupted sleep was causing the brains of these mice to produce more of a hormone -- hypocretin -- that helps your body figure out how many white blood cells to make.
While many important medical discoveries have started in non-human studies, we can't automatically say that what's true for mice is true for us. This is the first step to understanding some of the ways poor sleep affects humans. More research is needed to tell if interrupted sleep produces the same results in us.
We probably don't need a lot of research to tell us that getting enough sleep makes us feel better, physically and mentally. So snuggle in and get some shut-eye!
To learn more about our health, wellness, and fitness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Dacula, Ga.