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Effects of acute and chronic sleep deprivation on cardiovascular regulation

E. Tobaldini, M. Pecis, N. Montano


Sleep is a fundamental physiological process, characterized by the activation of several cortical and subcortical neural networks. The relation between sleep and cardiovascular system is complex and bidirectional: sleep disor- ders may alter cardiovascular system, leading to an increased cardiovascular risk, while, on the contrary, cardio- vascular diseases are characterized by an alteration of physiological sleep. Autonomic nervous system (ANS) plays a key role in the regulation of cardiovascular functions during different sleep stages, with sympatho-vagal balance dynamically shifting towards sympathetic or vagal predominance across different sleep stages. Sleep deprivation (SD) has becoming one of the most relevant health problem in modern societies. SD can be related to aging, which is associated with increased sleep fragmentation, and to sleep disorders, such as sleep disordered breathing and neurological disorders. Experimental studies in animals showed that SD significantly affects cardiovascular functions, altering heart rate and blood pressure responses, and increasing sympathetic activity and neuroendocrine response to stressor stimu- li. Clinical studies in humans have shown that SD, either due to experimental sleep loss and to sleep disorders, can affect different biological pathways, such as cardiovascular autonomic control, inflammation, immunity responses and metabolism. All these alterations may predispose subjects with SD to an increased cardiovascular risk. Hence, it is fundamental to identify the presence of a sleep disorder, which could be per se responsible for sleep loss, or the presence of sleep deprivation due to other factors, such as social life, habits etc., in order to identify subjects at high risk for cardiovascular events.

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