'Under seven hours sleep a night could trigger a stroke or heart attack'

Do you get enough shut-eye? [Photo: Getty]
Do you get enough shut-eye? [Photo: Getty]

Did you spend the morning lazily hitting the snooze button before unwillingly dragging yourself out of bed?

Not getting enough shut-eye won’t just leave you dozing at your desk, as a new study has revealed that there are serious health risks involved.

According to researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, those who get less than seven hours sleep a night are at a higher risk of suffering a stroke or heart attack.

Those who lay awake counting sheep have lower blood levels of microRNAs, small molecules that suppress gene expression of certain proteins in cells, which play a major role in vascular health.

Their job is to prevent the formation of clots which can cut off the supply of blood and oxygen to the brain and heart.

The findings published in Experimental Physiology could shed light on the link between shift workers and a host of serious illnesses.

READ MORE: 12 sleep products to help you and your family drift off

“This study proposes a new potential mechanism through which sleep influences heart health and overall physiology,” senior author, Professor of integrative physiology Christopher DeSouza at Colorado University at Boulder, said.

The UK is one of the most sleep-deprived nations in the world with approximately four out of 10 people saying they don’t get enough kip. According to the NHS, one in three have poor sleep.

Across the pond, sleep duration has plummeted from nine hours nightly to six and a half hours nightly over the past century.

Skipping sleep could have a serious impact on your cardiovascular health [Photo: Getty]
Skipping sleep could have a serious impact on your cardiovascular health [Photo: Getty]

Despite the American Heart Association’s recommendation that people get up to seven to nine hours each night, 40% of adults fall short.

Although many studies have demonstrated the correlation between lack of sleep and increased likelihood of cardiovascular disease, the recent research explains why.

For the investigation, the team took blood samples from 24 healthy men and women aged between 44 to 62 who filled out questionnaires on their sleeping habits.

Half slept seven to eight and a half hours per night while others only got five to 6.8 hours. The research team also measured expression of nine microRNAs associated with inflammation, immune function or vascular health.

The study discovered that people with insufficient sleep had between 40 and 60% lower circulating levels of the microRNAs.

According to senior author Professor Christopher De Souza, these specific proteins are known to suppress inflammatory processes.

READ MORE: How to fall asleep in five minutes flat

“Why seven or eight hours seems to be the magic number is unclear,” he said. “However, it's plausible people need at least seven hours of sleep per night to maintain levels of important physiological regulators - such as microRNAs.”

Research is now underway to determine whether restoring healthy sleep habits can restore healthy levels of microRNAs.

In the meantime, Professor DeSouza has some words of advice: “Don't underestimate the importance of a good night's sleep.”

But it’s not just the risk of cardiovascular issues which are cause for alarm, as a lack of sleep can lead to a number of illnesses.

These include breast cancer and other forms of the disease, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and dementia.

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