Study Finds Frequent Sleep Disruption Increases Risk of Kidney, Heart Disease

A study published in the April edition of the American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology suggests that frequent disruptions in the sleep cycle (also known as circadian rhythm) can increase the risk of kidney and heart disease. (The study is not yet available online.)

Conducted by researchers from the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre at Toronto General Hospital, the study altered the internal biological clocks of rodent (hamster) models using external regulators (such as reversing light and dark periods) and found that the changes resulted in cardiomyopathy (damage and enlargement of the heart) and scarring of the kidney tubules.

Based on findings from this and several other previous studies, the researchers concluded that renewal of organ tissues likely occurs during sleep, suggesting that sleep disruption prevents this process from happening and results in damage to the organs.

The researchers note that these problems may be particularly acute among flight crews, truck drivers, and “graveyard” or other variable shift workers. In fact, while most studies of these populations have focused on the effects of sleep deprivation and concentration and performance, the latest study may help explain why such workers have higher rates of cardiovascular disease. With that being said, the study’s lead author suggests that such workers consider these findings when scheduling work time,” or at the very least “try to maintain a constant working schedule for one month or more [to allow] the body to readjust its clock to external cues.”

Don’t have an erratic work schedule? Unfortunately that doesn’t mean that you’re immune to sleep disruptions. A new baby (or just one that’s acting possessed as of late!), a stressful work project, or even just a few late nights in a row can throw your sleep schedule into a rut.

But, if there’s one tried and true tip for regulating your sleep pattern, its eschewing those weekend lie ins. Yes, it feels great to sleep ‘till noon, especially if you’ve had a rough week, but setting your alarm for just one hour beyond your usual wake up time will allow you to feel well rested without sending your body in to shock once Monday morning rolls around!

joshunter Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Americans Get Too Little Sleep

7 Tips to Get Out of Bed

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9 thoughts on “Study Finds Frequent Sleep Disruption Increases Risk of Kidney, Heart Disease”

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  1. Insufficient sleep probably has more to do with obesity than the carbohydrates you rant against. Lack of sleep decreases leptin and raises ghrelin, which makes people eat more than they would otherwise.

  2. The Book “Lights Out” is a good read into the cardiac rythm and sleep cycles. Basically, go to bed by 10pm or you mess with all your hormones like GH release and melatonin. People who also stay up later tend to crave more carbohydrates because the body is tricked into think that it is a long day of summer (artificial lighting) and during the summer Paleo man needs to eat as many fruits/veg/carbs to fatten up for winter time survival.

  3. I’ve been reading a lot lately about the importance of sleep, and I know I’m on the short end of the stick in that department. I find that if I try to go to sleep before 11pm, I tend to have a restless night. I went to bed at 10pm last night and I had a lousy night. I usually sleep to 7am on weekends and I feel great; however, I have to be up by 6 on work days.

    I spent several years working rotating shift work in the Air Force. We would work four swings, followed by four mids, and then four days. Even then I was reading articles on how it takes the body five days to adjust to a change in shift. I hope the effects weren’t lasting! 🙂

  4. Since I got back into serious weight training I’ve been watching how much and the quality of my sleep like a hawk. Giving up caffeine altogether was probably the best thing I did. I never had a problem getting to sleep on my 8 Diet Cokes a day but I would wake up every 2 or 3 hours but I didn’t think too much of it. After stopping I only wake up to go to the bathroom — damn that gallon of water I am committed to drinking daily.

    Saturday we slept until 930 (2 hours late) and Sunday 1030 (3 hours!). Last night I got to sleep around 1130 easily but woke up 5 or 6 times. I was pretty angry about it actually and it probably made getting back to sleep that much more difficult. My workout today did not suffer surprisingly but I suppose it takes a while for the effects of sleep interruptions to build up.

    My tips would be cut caffeine, protein/fat only 3 hours before bed, and use ear plugs. And I’ll take your advice and try setting an alarm this weekend coming up (for 830).

  5. What are some good remedies to staying asleep??? I don’t usually have a problem getting to sleep, but I do usually wake up any where from 3-7 times a night to use the bathroom. Any good herbal remedies, dietary suggestions, anything that will help me stay down once I’m asleep??

  6. James> Some people claim omega-3 can help (Dr Seth Roberts of Shangri-La diet fame is one and he also claims that standing up more during the day helps (?!) ). Some like melatonin although for me it helped me get to sleep easier but not sleep sounder.


  7. ZMA helps some people sleep…may be the Magnesium. I wouldn’t suggest taking melatonin…as that will just mess up your own ability to make it. Lack of sleep with just mess with everything including cognative ability, cellular repair and other recovery/detoxification mechanisms. Sleep it key to health, living longer, muscle growth and fat loss.

    Scott has a review of “Light Out” worth checking out.

  8. James – I have the same problem as you. I try hard to limit the amount of fluid I drink after 7 pm, but it’s hard because my husband works late, and we seldom finish dinner before 8:30.

    I read somewhere that alpha-lipoic acid (touted by a lot of low-carb gurus) can actually cause sleeplessness. I cut way back on the ALA, and started taking it in the morning instead of evening, and that helped a lot. Of course, if you’re not taking ALA, this tip won’t help you.