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Working 24-Hour Shifts With Little Sleep Affects Heart Function, Blood Pressure

Nurse talking with patient in doctors office

Working long shifts with little sleep can be a part of the job for nurses and other healthcare professionals, and can cause burnout and extreme fatigue, according to some studies

Now a small study shows that short-term sleep deprivation also can result in higher blood pressure as well as an increase in heart rate and levels of certain hormones.

"These findings may help us better understand how workload and shift duration affect public health," said lead researcher Daniel Kuetting, MD, in a recent HealthDay News article. Kuetting works in the Department of Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology at the University of Bonn, Germany. 

He and other researchers studied 20 healthy radiologists with an average age of 32 years old. 

They checked the participant's heart function before and after a 24-hour shift in which they slept for an average of three hours. They also collected blood and urine samples and measured blood pressure and heart rate. 

"For the first time, we have shown that short-term sleep deprivation in the context of 24-hour shifts can lead to a significant increase in cardiac contractility [the degree to which heart muscle contracts], blood pressure and heart rate," Kuetting said in the article. 

The study was presented on December 2, 2016, at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. "The study was designed to investigate real-life work-related sleep deprivation," Kuetting said in a news release published by the Radiological Society of North America. "While the participants were not permitted to consume caffeine or food and beverages containing theobromine, such as chocolate, nuts or tea, we did not take into account factors like individual stress level or environmental stimuli." 

Kuetting said a larger study is needed to determine long-term effects on the heart of short-term sleep deprivation. 

Insufficient sleep is associated with a number of chronic diseases and conditions -- such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Those working unusual shifts may also suffer from gastrointestinal diseases, according to the National Sleep Foundation. 

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