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Low-Dose Aspirin Alleviates Inflammation Caused by Sleep Deprivation

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A small 2024 study from Harvard University found that low-dose aspirin can reduce inflammation triggered by sleep restriction.

In today’s fast-paced world, stress often leads to inadequate sleep, causing short sleep durations or insomnia. This can induce inflammation, increasing the risk of chronic diseases.

Fortunately, there may be a way to combat this specific kind of inflammation. A small 2024 study from Harvard University revealed that low-dose aspirin can reduce inflammation triggered by sleep restriction.

The Harvard Study: A Deep Dive

Researchers conducted a randomized, placebo-controlled crossover trial involving 46 healthy adults. The trial employed three protocols: sleep restriction with low-dose aspirin, sleep restriction with a placebo, and regular sleep with a placebo.

Participants took 81 milligrams of aspirin daily. Under sleep restriction, they slept four hours each for five nights, followed by three nights of recovery sleep at eight hours per night. The control group maintained eight hours of sleep throughout.

The results showed that under sleep restriction conditions, preemptive intake of low-dose aspirin mitigated the pro-inflammatory responses compared to placebo. Specifically, aspirin reduced inflammatory markers, including interleukin (IL)-6 expression and C-reactive protein (CRP).

Sleep Deprivation and Inflammatory Damage

According to Harvard Medical School, one theory suggests that lack of sleep leads to inflammation due to changes in blood vessels. Typically, blood pressure decreases, and blood vessels relax while we sleep. When sleep is limited, blood pressure does not decrease as usual, potentially triggering vascular endothelial cells that activate inflammation.

Additionally, sleep deprivation disrupts the normal function of the brain’s internal cleaning system, known as the glymphatic system. During deep sleep, cerebrospinal fluid washes through the brain, clearing out beta-amyloid proteins associated with brain cell damage. Without adequate sleep, this cleaning process is incomplete, leading to a buildup of the protein and subsequent inflammation. This creates a vicious cycle where beta-amyloid accumulation in the frontal lobe further impairs deep sleep, making it increasingly difficult to retain and consolidate memories.

Notably, cumulative sleep loss can decrease the structural integrity, size, and function of brain regions such as the hippocampus and thalamus. These regions are particularly vulnerable to damage in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

According to a 2020 analysis of self-reported sleep durations among Americans, it is estimated that about one-third (33.2 percent) of U.S. adults sleep less than seven hours per night. An increasing number of studies have shown that insufficient sleep affects emotions, memory, and energy levels and can lead to inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s natural response to disease and injury, but if not regulated, it may affect brain structure and increase the risk of chronic diseases such as autoimmune diseases, cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes.

Aspirin’s Anti-Inflammatory Role

“The novelty of this study is that it investigated whether we can pharmacologically reduce the inflammatory consequences of sleep restriction,” said Larissa Engert, the lead author of the Harvard study, in a news release. “We used a non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drug because it has been shown to affect specific inflammatory pathways, which were previously shown to be dysregulated by experimental sleep restriction or sleep disturbances.”

Ms. Engert stated that the research data also showed that aspirin not only reduced the inflammatory pathway activity in participants experiencing sleep restriction but also shortened the wake time after sleep onset and improved sleep efficiency during the recovery sleep period. She believes that these findings could promote the development of new therapies that do not exhibit adverse effects linked to aspirin, such as bleeding and stroke.

Benefits and Risks of Aspirin

Aspirin has been used for over 3,500 years and remains a popular choice for preventing cardiovascular events. While daily aspirin intake may reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, it also raises the risk of bleeding. Even at low dosages, the academic community holds varying opinions on the benefits and risks of aspirin.

A 2021 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine involving approximately 15,000 cardiovascular disease patients found that a daily intake of 81 milligrams of aspirin (also known as low-dose aspirin) showed no significant difference in cardiovascular events or major bleeding compared to 325 milligrams of aspirin.

Dr. Schuyler Jones, the study’s lead author and assistant professor of medicine at the Duke Clinical Research Institute at Duke University School of Medicine, stated in a press release that the 81-milligram dose had better long-term adherence, so it may be the best choice for patients.

However, a 2023 study found that low-dose aspirin increased the risk of intracranial bleeding by 38 percent, suggesting that older adults prone to head injuries should exercise caution.

Personalized Aspirin Use

The National Poll on Healthy Aging conducted by the University of Michigan in 2023 revealed that many older adults take aspirin regularly, primarily to prevent heart attacks and strokes, often unaware of its bleeding risks.

Dr. Jeffrey Kullgren, the poll director and associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, emphasized the importance of personalized aspirin use and encouraged health care providers and patients to discuss the best options.

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