Burning the midnight oil again? Your arteries may end up paying a serious price. While it’s already been well-established that lack of sleep harms your heart, a new study shows that it’s not only your coronary arteries that are vulnerable. It turns out that other vessels throughout your body are also more apt to become clogged with plaque and stiffen (a condition called atherosclerosis) if you tend to get fewer than six hours of sleep a night.

When your arteries become stiff and clogged, blood can’t flow through them properly. As a result, so-called non-coronary arteries may raise your risk of stroke, painful peripheral artery disease (often in the legs), and impotence, as well as a slew of other health problems.  

The new study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, included nearly 4,000 people who wore a sensor that tracked their sleep duration over the course of a week. The scientists reviewed the sleep data and ran imaging tests to check for plaque buildup in the arteries, including the femoral artery in the leg.

What they learned: The “very short” sleepers, who got less than six hours of sleep a night, were 27 percent more likely to have plaque buildup in the non-coronary arteries compared to those who got seven to eight hours a night. 

Although this study doesn’t directly prove that lack of sleep causes the non-coronary arteries to become clogged and stiff, anyone who regularly skimps on shut-eye should take heed. That’s especially true because the authors were careful to adjust for other common risk factors for atherosclerosis (such as preexisting diabetes, high blood pressure, or cardiovascular disease). That suggests that lack of sleep may be an independent risk factor for this problem. 

The authors concluded that “recommending a good sleep hygiene should be part of the lifestyle modifications provided in our daily clinical practice.”

While some night owls may simply need to start winding down earlier in the evening, be sure to talk to your doctor or a sleep specialist if you often have trouble falling asleep of find yourself waking frequently during the night. 

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