Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Beauty Sleep for Heart Health

Most women know that nothing kills a really good complexion like a bad night's slumber; there's a reason, after all, that it's called beauty sleep. If that's not motivation enough to keep up with your nightly shut-eye, here's another: many doctors are learning that poor sleep habits may make women more vulnerable than men to heart disease and even the dreaded diabetes.

Are men and women so different physiologically that they react differently to troubled sleep patterns? Or are men protected somehow from the health effects of poor sleep? To find out, Dr. Edward Suarez, at Duke University, gathered 210 healthy men and women and asked them detailed questions about their sleep habits--including how long it took them to fall asleep, how many hours they had slumbered in the past month, whether they slept through the night and if they felt drowsy during the day.

Then he recorded their levels of cholesterol, insulin, glucose, the clotting agent fibrinogen, inflammatory proteins (that contribute to heart disease) and for insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes). Since emotional factors can effect sleep as well, he also assessed each subject's levels of depression, hostility and anger, using standard psychological questionnaires. What Dr. Suarez uncovered was a consistent association between poor sleep and higher levels of the risk factors for heart disease and diabetes---but only among the women! The men with reported interrupted sleep did not show higher levels of risk factors. The results, published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity, are among the first to link poor sleep to such a wide array of physiological changes.

While he cannot fully explain why men and women are affected so differently, Dr. Suarez believes that testosterone could play a role. High levels of testosterone are known to reduce levels of heart damaging inflammatory proteins but can also cause some men sleep problems too. So he speculates that while testosterone may trigger sleep disturbances, it also blunts some of the changes that can raise the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

The Way I See It....Dr Suarez's study stops short of saying that women can reduce their risk for these conditions just by changing their sleep pattern, but it should galvanize women to pay more attention to the time they spend in bed. Just as I teach patients to eat well, exercise and maintain a healthy spine and nervous system through Wellness Care, I also advise them on how important it is to sleep well. In other words, for women....a good night's rest is far more than just a beauty sleep.

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