Poor sleep raises blood pressure, alters gut microbiome
Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) have found associations between disrupted sleep, elevated blood pressure and changes in the gut microbiome, with the results of their study published in the journal Physiological Genomics.
The idea behind the study was generated by several of the paper’s co-authors, who are or have been healthcare providers with night-shift schedules. As noted by co-author Anne M Fink, “We know that working at night can cause problems with your health, and the data suggest that staying awake all night can lead to high blood pressure and, in some cases, eventually to heart disease, but it’s not clear what mechanisms underlie the development of these conditions.”
The study aimed to determine whether a 28-day period of disrupted sleep changed the gut microbiota in rats. The researchers also sought to identify biological features associated with undesirable arterial blood pressure changes.
Rats are nocturnal, so the experiments were designed to interfere with their daytime sleep periods. Telemetry transmitters measured the rats’ brain activity, blood pressure and heart rate. Faecal matter was also analysed to examine changes in the microbial content.
“When rats had an abnormal sleep schedule, an increase in blood pressure developed — the blood pressure remained elevated even when they could return to normal sleep,” said study co-author Katherine A Maki. “This suggests that dysfunctional sleep impairs the body for a sustained period.”
Undesirable changes also were found in the gut microbiome — the genetic material of all bacteria living in the colon. But contrary to her initial hypothesis, Maki found that the gut microbiome changes did not happen immediately. Rather, it took one week to show unfavourable responses such as an imbalance among different types of bacteria, including an increase in microbes associated with inflammation.
“When the sleep disruption stopped, everything did not come back to normal immediately,” Maki said. “This research shows a very complex system with the presence of multiple pathological factors.”
Studies will now continue to examine pathways involving the gut microbiome and metabolites produced by gut bacteria. The researchers will see exactly how sleep characteristics are changed and how long blood pressure and gut microbiome alterations persist. They will then determine how this information translates to humans.
“We hope to find an intervention that can help people who are at risk for cardiovascular disease because of their work and sleep schedules,” Fink said. “People will always have responsibilities that interrupt their sleep. We want to be able to reduce their risk by targeting the microbiome with new therapies or dietary changes.”
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