Researchers at the University of Illinois, Chicago conducted a study that revealed associations among disrupted sleep, elevated blood pressure and changes in the gut microbiome. The study, published in Physiological Genomics (September 2020), aimed to determine whether a 28-day period of disrupted sleep changed the microbiota in rats, and identify biological issues linked to blood pressure changes. The idea was based on considerations for health care providers who work night shifts.
Researchers disrupted the rats' sleep periods, and telemetry transmitters measured their brain activity, blood pressure and heart rate. Fecal matter also was analyzed to examine the microbial content.
"When rats had an abnormal sleep schedule, an increase in blood pressure developed—the blood pressure remained elevated even when they could return to normal sleep. This suggests that dysfunctional sleep impairs the body for a sustained period," noted coauthor Katherine A. Maki.
Undesirable changes also were found in the gut microbiome, but rather than happening immediately, the changes took a week to manifest. Responses included an imbalance among different types of bacteria and an increase in microbes associated with inflammation. In addition, once the sleep interference was stopped, it took time for the rats to go back to normal.
"This research shows a very complex system with the presence of multiple pathological factors," added Maki.
Although this was initial research, more studies will be conducted to look at possible pathways involving the gut microbiome and metabolites produced by gut bacteria. The researchers hope to discover exactly how sleep characteristics are changed and how long blood pressure and gut microbiome alterations persist—and then translate how it relates to humans.
"We hope to find an intervention that can help people who are at risk for cardiovascular disease because of their work and sleep schedules," said coauthor Anne M. Fink. "People will always have responsibilities that interrupt their sleep. We want to be able to reduce their risk by targeting the microbiome with new therapies or dietary changes."