Disrupted or otherwise poor sleep quality has been linked to long-term risk of various diseases, as well as the short-term risk of everything from brain fog to anger issues. A new study explores these relationships, identifying notable impacts on blood pressure and gut bacteria in those who experience disrupted sleep — changes that persist for a long time after normal sleep resumes.
The new study, which is described as the first of its kind, comes from researchers at the University of Illinois Chicago. The research explored the potential health impacts of disrupted sleep over a 28-day period — it involved lab rats, not humans. Because rats are nocturnal, the study involved disrupting their sleep during the day.
During this 28-day period, the researchers monitored the rats’ blood pressure, heart rate, as well as their brain activity. Using their fecal samples, the researchers also monitored their gut bacteria profile. The researchers found that after a week or so, the rats experienced a gut bacteria change that skewed toward a profile associated with inflammation.
As well, the study linked disrupted sleep with an increase in blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease and many other conditions over time. Perhaps most concerning, the blood pressure didn’t quickly return to normal when regular sleep was reestablished — it took multiple weeks, indicating that things like working random night shifts may cause long-term health issues in people.
One of the study leads, Anne M. Fink, said:
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.