The link between sleep and health has never been stronger, but for all the data that chides us for not getting enough rest each night, there are still lingering questions. For instance, how is it possible that sleep can be linked to seemingly unrelated health effects, including cardiovascular disease and anxiety? Well, at least when it comes to heart disease, a new paper in Experimental Physiology provides some concrete answers.
Lack of sleep can affect mood and academic performance, but it has also been linked to heart conditions in population-based studies. The CDC has published materials suggesting that sleeping for less than seven hours is linked to type 2 diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure, all of which increase the risk of heart disease.
Working with Jamie Hijmans, a doctoral candidate and fellow in DeSouza’s lab, the team showed that sleeping for less than seven hours a night can reduce specific fragments of non-coding RNA molecules found in blood called microRNAs.
“Circulating levels of specific microRNAs, such as the ones we studied, have been linked to cardiovascular health and disease,” Hijmans tells Inverse. “For example, reduced levels of a beneficial microRNA can have adverse consequences.”