Getting enough sleep is key to good health, as researchers say that insufficient sleep increases the risk of serious problems, including cardiovascular disease.
The team of researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) have identified a previously unknown mechanism by which sleep protects against the buildup of arterial plaques, providing a potential treatment option.
Their study described the mechanism between brain, bone marrow and blood vessels, by which insufficient sleep increases inflammatory white blood cells known to be major contributors to hardening of the arteries, reports Xinhua.
"We have discovered that sleep helps to regulate the production in the bone marrow of inflammatory cells and the health of blood vessels and that, conversely, sleep disruption breaks down control of inflammatory cell production, leading to more inflammation and more heart disease," said co-author Filip Swirsk.
"We also have identified how a hormone in the brain known to control wakefulness controls processes in the bone marrow and protects against cardiovascular disease," Swirsk added.
For the study, published in the journal Nature, the research team interrupted the sleep of mice, similar to the experience of someone constantly waking up.
The sleep-deprived mice developed progressively larger arterial plaques and had twice the level of certain inflammatory cells like monocytes and neutrophils in their blood vessels.
Also, they had lower amounts of a hormone called hypocretin made by the brain that regulates sleep, the researchers said.
They found that the hypocretin regulated the white blood cell production through interaction with neutrophil progenitors in the bone marrow.
The study showed a direct demonstration of the molecular connections linking blood and cardiovascular risk factors to sleep health.
"This is a direct demonstration that hypocretin is also an important inflammatory mediator," Swirski said.
The researchers said that targeting the newly discovered mechanism could be a breakthrough that may one day lead to new treatments for heart disease and sleep disorders.