Research update

Disrupted sleep is associated with elevated blood pressure and changes in the gut microbiome, according to researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago, USA.

The team aimed to determine whether a 28-day period of disrupted sleep changed the gut bacteria (microbiota) in rats, by examining their faecal matter. They also looked at biological features associated with undesirable blood pressure changes.

When the rats had an abnormal sleep schedule, an increase in blood pressure developed. Crucially, the blood pressure remained elevated even when the rats could return to a normal sleeping pattern, suggesting that dysfunctional sleep impairs the body for a sustainable period of time.

Undesirable changes were also found in the gut microbiome, including increases in microbes associated with inflammation. However, the authors found that these changes did not happen immediately, instead taking a week to show.

Dr Katherine Maki, the study’s lead author, said: “When the sleep disruption stopped, everything did not come back to normal immediately… this research shows a very complex system with the presence of multiple pathological factors."

While this was preliminary research and the exact biological mechanisms are not yet known, the researchers plan on identifying exactly how sleep characteristics are changed and how long blood pressure and gut microbiome alterations persist after sleep patterns return to normal. They plan on using the research to determine how this information might translate to humans, in the hope of finding interventions for people who are at risk of cardiovascular disease because of their work and sleep schedules.

Corresponding author Dr Anne 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.”