From the Journals

Irregular sleep tied to markers of atherosclerosis



Irregular sleep – such as inconsistent sleep duration or sleep timing – may increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis among adults older than age 45, a new report suggests.

In particular, variation in sleep duration of more than 2 hours per night in the same week was tied to higher rates of atherosclerosis.

“Poor sleep is linked with several cardiovascular conditions, including heart disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes,” lead author Kelsie M. Full, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tenn., said in an interview.

“Overall, we found that participants who slept varying amounts of hours throughout the week (meaning that one night they slept less, one night they slept more) were more likely to have atherosclerosis than participants who slept about the same amount of time each night,” she said.

The study was published online in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Analyzing associations

Dr. Full and colleagues examined data from 2032 participants in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis Sleep Ancillary Study, which included adults aged between 45 and 84 years in six U.S. communities who completed 7-day wrist actigraphy assessment and kept a sleep diary between 2010 and 2013.

For subclinical markers of cardiovascular disease, participants underwent assessments of coronary artery calcium, carotid plaque presence, carotid intima-media thickness, and ankle-brachial index.

The research team assessed sleep duration, or the total number of minutes of sleep in a night, and sleep timing regularity, which was determined on the basis of the time someone initially fell asleep each night. They adjusted for cardiovascular disease risk factors and sleep characteristics, such as obstructive sleep apnea, sleep duration, and sleep fragmentation.

The average age of the participants was 68.6 years, and 53.6% were women. About 37.9% identified as White, 27.6% as Black or African American, 23.4% as Hispanic American, and 11.1% as Chinese American.

During the 7-day period, about 38% of participants experienced a change in sleep duration of more than 90 minutes, and 18% experienced a sleep duration change of more than 120 minutes. Those who had irregular sleep were more likely to be non-White, current smokers, have lower average annual incomes, have work shift schedules or did not work, and have a higher average body mass index.

For the study, sleep duration irregularity was defined as a standard deviation of more than 120 minutes. Those participants who had a greater degree of sleep irregularity were more likely to have high coronary artery calcium burden than those whose sleep duration was more more regular, defined as an SD of 60 minutes or less (> 300; prevalence ratio, 1.33; 95% confidence interval, 1.03-1.71), as well as abnormal ankle-brachial index (< 0.9, prevalence ratio, 1.75;95% CI, 1.03-2.95).

Further, those with irregular sleep timing (SD > 90 minutes) were more likely to have a high coronary artery calcium burden (prevalence ratio, 1.39; 95% CI, 1.07-1.82) in comparison with those with more regular sleep timing (SD < 30 minutes).

“The biggest surprise to me was that 30% of the participants in the study had total sleep times that varied by more than 90 minutes over the course of the week,” Dr. Full said. “This is consistent with prior studies that suggest that a large proportion of the general public have irregular sleep patterns, not just shift workers.”


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