The impact that partial sleep deprivation has on breathing control and blood vessels has been examined in a study, and it was found that sleep length reduction over 2 consecutive nights results in impaired breathing control and less healthy vascular function.
For the first 2 nights 8 healthy adult individuals aged 20 – slept a normal 8 hour night. Then, instead of completely restricting their sleep, they them slept only 4 hours during each of 3 consecutive nights.
Each individual had tests to see how well their blood vessels accommodated an increased blood flow, a healthy blood vessel function test, or vascular function test. After the first 2 restricted sleep nights, a significant reduction in vascular function in comparison to after the nights of normal sleep was found. Vascular function however returned to baseline after the 3rd sleep restriction night, perhaps an adaptive response to acute loss of sleep.
Study participants were exposed to moderately high carbon dioxide levels in other tests, which usually increases the breathing rate and depth. Breathing control was however substantially reduced after lost sleep.
These individuals later sleet 10 hours a night for 5 nights. After the same tests were completed, results revealed that breathing control and vascular function had improved.
The results could suggest a mechanism behind the sleep loss and cardiovascular disease connection. Vascular health could be compromised even more if acute sleep loss repetitively happens over a long period of time, and eventually cardiovascular disease will develop.
The loss of breathing control that was observed could also play a part in sleep apnea development, which has also been associated with cardiovascular disease.
Some populations that tend to report shorter periods of sleep, like the elderly, could be at an even greater risk of these adverse health effects.