Inflammation links sleep loss with heart disease, study finds

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Recent research has shed light on how disrupted sleep patterns contribute to the development of atherosclerosis, a condition characterized by the buildup of fatty arterial plaques, which can ultimately lead to deadly heart disease.

The study uncovers a unique pathway linking fragmented sleep to chronic inflammation throughout the bloodstream, which, in turn, is associated with increased plaque formation in coronary arteries.

This research underscores poor sleep quality as a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.

The Sleep-Inflammation-Heart Disease Link

The study, published in PLOS Biology, adds fragmented sleep to the list of key contributors to cardiovascular disease, responsible for approximately 12,000 deaths per week in the US.

The COVID-19 pandemic, with an average daily death toll of 1,000 in the US, comes close to matching this grim statistic.

According to senior author Matthew Walker, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, the research reveals a novel connection between disrupted sleep, chronic inflammation, and atherosclerosis, providing crucial insights into the development of heart disease.

Sleep Quality and Cardiovascular Health

The research involved a comprehensive analysis of data from over 1,600 middle-aged and older adults, utilizing the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis dataset.

To isolate the impact of sleep quality on heart health, the study controlled for variables such as age, ethnicity, gender, body mass index, sleep disorders, blood pressure, and high-risk behaviors like smoking.

The analysis examined blood tests, calcium scores to assess plaque accumulation, and various measures of sleep, including wristwatch-monitored sleep patterns over a week and overnight sleep studies measuring brainwave signals.

The results demonstrated a clear link between disrupted sleep patterns and increased levels of circulating inflammatory factors, particularly white blood cells known as monocytes and neutrophils, which play a pivotal role in atherosclerosis.

Implications for Public Health

The association between poor sleep and atherosclerosis through chronic inflammation carries significant public health implications.

Atherosclerosis often begins in early adulthood but often remains unnoticed until middle or old age when plaque buildup obstructs arterial blood flow to vital organs, earning it the nickname “silent killer.”

The researchers emphasize the need for improved sleep hygiene, even starting in early to midlife.

Co-lead author Vyoma Shah, a doctoral student in Walker’s lab, highlights the importance of monitoring sleep quality using clinical-grade sleep trackers, as subjective assessments were found to be unreliable.

Broader Implications for Health

With chronic inflammation emerging as a pivotal link between disrupted sleep and cardiovascular disease, researchers suggest exploring its role in various other conditions where inflammation is a contributing factor.

This includes mental health issues such as major depression and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

The findings underscore the critical importance of addressing sleep disruptions and their impact on inflammation as a preventive measure against heart disease and potentially other health conditions.


This study illuminates the intricate relationship between disrupted sleep, chronic inflammation, and the development of atherosclerosis, emphasizing the significance of sleep quality as a risk factor for heart disease.

It calls for increased attention to sleep hygiene starting in early to midlife, along with the use of objective sleep trackers for accurate assessment.

Furthermore, the research prompts the exploration of chronic inflammation’s role in a range of other diseases, opening new avenues for investigation and potential interventions.

If you care about health, please read studies that vitamin D can help reduce inflammation, and vitamin K could lower your heart disease risk by a third.

For more information about health, please see recent studies about new way to halt excessive inflammation, and results showing foods that could cause inflammation.

The research findings can be found in PLOS Biology.

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