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Just one night of sleep deprivation can impair arterial function, and chronically poor sleep increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Conversely, high intensity interval exercise can improve multiple markers of heart health. In this report, researchers tested the effects of exercise on flow mediated dilation, a measure of vascular function, in sleep-deprived participants.

Flow mediated dilation is a measure of how wide an artery expands in response to increased blood flow. Meals high in fat normally cause dysfunction in blood vessels, impairing their ability to dilate. Previous research reports that high intensity exercise improves flow mediated dilation following a meal.

Fifteen healthy active men (average age, 31 years) completed three nights of sleep for this study. The first night, participants slept a full eight hours and ate a high-fat test meal the next morning. The second night, participants slept a full eight hours, then performed high intensity interval training before eating. The third night, participants slept three and one half hours or less, then performed the same exercise and ate the same meal. The researchers measured flow mediated dilation at multiple time points.

After comparing the post-meal flow mediated dilation following a full night of sleep and a full night of sleep plus exercise, the authors found that exercise improved arterial function. Impressively, the benefit of exercise remained following a night of sleep deprivation. Flow mediated dilation rates were similar between exercise conditions regardless of sleep duration the night before.

The authors concluded that high intensity exercise improves artery function and that these benefits remain even after a night of sleep deprivation. However, they recommended that people get a full night of sleep before strenuous exercise to get the most benefit.

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