Disrupted nightly sleep and clogged arteries tend to sneak up on us as we age. And while both disorders may seem unrelated, a new UC Berkeley study helps explain why they are, in fact, pathologically intertwined.
UC Berkeley sleep scientists have begun to reveal what it is about fragmented nightly sleep that leads to the fatty arterial plaque buildup known as atherosclerosis that can result in fatal heart disease.
“We’ve discovered that fragmented sleep is associated with a unique pathway — chronic circulating inflammation throughout the blood stream — which, in turn, is linked to higher amounts of plaques in coronary arteries,” said study senior author Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience.
The findings, published today, June 4, in the journal PLOS Biology, adds poor sleep as a key risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which ranks as the top killer of Americans, with some 12,000 deaths each week — although COVID-19, which has killed, on average, 1,000 a day during the pandemic in the U.S., comes close.
“To the best of our knowledge, these data are the first to associate sleep fragmentation, inflammation and atherosclerosis in humans,” said study lead author Raphael Vallat, a postdoctoral researcher in Walker’s Center for Human Sleep Science at UC Berkeley.