As college students, sleep is often a luxury we cannot afford. Whether it be work, exams, papers, projects or just anxiety, many young people find themselves filling up on caffeine, wide awake at night, or preoccupied with something else. According to the University Health Center at the University of Georgia, college students get between 6-6.9 hours of sleep each night. Along with diminishing academic success, lowering energy levels, and affecting mood, sleep has a big effect on physical health — in particular, cardiovascular health.
Sleep is critical to maintain a healthy heart. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lack of sleep is linked to conditions such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. All three of these disorders raise the risk for heart disease. Moreover, the two main culprits behind afflictions such as heart attack and stroke are sleep apnea and insomnia. Sleep apnea is when breathing is continuously interrupted during sleep, causing lack of oxygen in the blood. Insomnia is difficulty falling asleep. A study conducted by Cameron S. Alpine studied the relationship between fragmented sleep and atherosclerosis in mice. Atherosclerosis is a disorder identified by the development of plaque in the arteries and as white blood cells enter the artery wall and take up cholesterol from the blood, they trigger an inflammatory response. The authors of the study induced sleep interruption by moving a bar periodically across the bottom of the animals’ cages during their sleep period and compared these mice with the control group of mice. They discovered that the mice with sleep fragmentation had more severe atherosclerosis. This was seen by growth of white blood cells in the bone marrow and in the numbers of monocytes and neutrophils — two types of white blood cells — in the blood.
Additionally, the sleep deprived mice had low levels of hormone orexin in the hypothalamus of the brain. Orexin is associated with remaining awake; people with narcolepsy have decreased level of this hormone, which in turn means they have increased risk of heart issues. The researches further discovered minimized orexin levels led to a rise in signaling protein CSF1. This is the key factor to the formation of inflammatory white blood cells in the bone marrow, which accelerated atherosclerosis. Even more astounding was that recovering the orexin levels in the mice lessened their atherosclerosis. This eye-opening study confirmed the connection between heart disease and lack of sleep, but still must be replicated in humans to further validate the claim.
Sleep is fundamental to our health. It restores and repairs our body, strengthens our memories, facilitates learning, and aids in growth and development. Evidence has also shown its inherent tie to hearth disease. Inadequate sleep can contribute to diseases such as stroke, heart attack, and atherosclerosis. So the next time you’re thinking of pulling an all-nighter for that test tomorrow, just remember its probably more worth your while to get some sleep.