Sleeping enough hours reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, since it reduces the formation of atherosclerosis plaques, revealed a study published today in the scientific journal Nature.

The research, conducted at the General Hospital of Massachusetts (United States), has shown that sleep protects against the accumulation of atherosclerosis, while a lack of this increases the production of white blood cells, the main contributors to the formation of these plaques.

Until now it was known that a good rest is key to enjoy satisfactory health, although this study broadens the knowledge about how lack of sleep increases the risk of suffering serious conditions, including cardiovascular diseases.

To investigate how insufficient sleep – seven to eight hours of sleep per day – increases the clogging of the arteries, the team of scientists subjected mice genetically programmed to develop atherosclerosis to repeated sleep interruptions, similar to when someone wakes up constantly due to to noise or discomfort.

While there were no changes in weight, cholesterol levels or glucose tolerance in these mice, compared to animals that were allowed to sleep normally, those deprived of sleep developed larger arterial plaques.

In addition, it was observed that their levels of monocytes and neutrophils, inflammatory cells that contribute to the accumulation of atherosclerosis in the blood vessels, were higher.

Other experiments showed that the sleep deprived mice had an almost doubled increase in the production in their bone marrow of stem cells that give rise to the white blood cells.

Filip Swirski, director of the study, said that it has also been possible to identify a hormone in the brain that regulates the state of wakefulness, controls the processes in the bone marrow and protects against cardiovascular diseases.

"Now we need to study this pathway in humans, explore additional mechanisms through which adequate sleep maintains vascular health and explore this newly identified neuroimmune axis," he said.

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