Sleep loss increases cardiovascular disease in alcoholics


CONTEXT: Alcohol dependence is linked with high blood pressure and heart arrhythmia, but the triggering mechanisms are unknown. Sleep loss is known to increase heart rate and constrict blood vessels by stimulating the sympathetic nervous system. The study measures heart rate, blood pressure and circulating sympathetic catecholamines -- the neurotransmitters/hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine -- in 36 abstinent alcoholics and in 36 demographically similar non-alcoholics under three conditions: 1) after a night of sleep, 2) in the morning after early night partial sleep deprivation, and 3) after a full night of recovery sleep.

FINDINGS: Sleep loss increases the heart rate and sympathetic catecholamine levels in alcoholics, compared with non-alcoholics, disrupting cardiovascular health. Increases persist after nights of partial and recovery sleep. The findings suggest habitual sleep loss may play a role in tremor, anxiety, high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat in alcoholics.

IMPACT: Behavioral, relaxation or biofeedback treatments proven effective for chronic insomnia may ease sleep abnormalities and accompanying physiological abnormalities in alcoholics.

AUTHOR: Dr. Michael R. Irwin, director of the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, and professor-in-residence of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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