Study shows how a lack of sleep can contribute to cardiovascular disease

Getting enough sleep is key to good health, and studies have shown that insufficient sleep increases the risk of serious problems, including cardiovascular disease.

In a recent study, a team led by Filip Swirski, PhD, of the MGH Center for Systems Biology, identified how that process works on a molecular and biological level.

The team conducted a study using mice genetically programmed to develop arteriosclerosis. Animals that experienced repeated interruptions to their sleep, similar to someone who is frequently awakened due to noise or discomfort, developed larger arterial plaques than did mice allowed to sleep normally. They also had higher levels of two types of immune cells that contribute to arteriosclerosis in their blood vessels.

The sleep-deprived mice also had nearly double the production of stem cells in the bone marrow that give rise to white blood cells.

Dreams of relapse are common in individuals recovering from substance use disorder

Those in recovery from a substance abuse disorder and who have anxiety-provoking dreams about relapsing are not alone.

Dreams of those in recovery from every kind of substance use disorder – alcohol, heroin, cocaine, cannabis – can be characterized by a common pattern. The person takes a drink or their other primary substance. They then experience disbelief and are overcome with fear, guilt and remorse until they wake up, relieved to realize it was only a dream.

A research team led by John Kelly, PhD, associate director of the MGH Center for Addiction Medicine, recently found that individuals with more significant clinical histories of substance use disorder are more likely to have dreams of relapse and that these dreams will decrease over time as recovery continues.

“The association between the decreasing frequency of these dreams and the length of time in recovery suggests that, as the body and mind gradually adapt to abstinence and a new lifestyle, psychological angst about relapse diminishes,” Kelly says. “REM sleep and deep wave sleep undergo important changes, even long after people enter recovery; and these relapse dreams may be indicative of the healing process and brain-mind stabilization that occurs with time in recovery.”

Building a better understanding of the genetic links to insomnia

Insomnia affects around 10 to 20 percent of the population, and twin and family studies have suggested that about a third of the risk of insomnia is inherited. While evidence has suggested that insomnia increases the risk of anxiety disorders, alcohol use disorder, major depression and cardiometabolic disease, little has been known about the mechanisms involved.

An international research team led by investigators from the MGH and the University of Exeter Medical School in the U.K. has identified 57 gene regions associated with symptoms of insomnia.

“All of these identified regions help us understand why some people get insomnia, which pathways and systems are affected, and point to possible new therapeutic targets,” says lead author Jacqueline M. Lane, PhD, of the Center for Genomic Medicine and the MGH Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine.