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Pulling Just One All-Nighter Might Have Some Serious Health Consequences

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What do new moms, college students, paramedics, and ER docs all have in common (besides having to deal with puke on a regular basis)? They all routinely need to make it through the day on no or very little sleep. And while no one thinks pulling an all-nighter is good for your health, there's actual evidence that it hurts your heart.

Getting less than three hours of sleep during a 24-hour period causes immediate heart problems, according to a new study presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. Researchers looked at 20 healthy adults, testing their hearts before and after they worked a 24-hour shift during which they weren't allowed to drink coffee, take caffeine, or eat anything that might have a stimulant effect, including nuts and chocolate (possibly the hardest 24 hours ever). After missing just one night of sleep, people's hearts showed signs of increased strain, they had increased blood pressure, and their heart rates were elevated—all warning signs of cardiovascular problems. The researchers also found increased levels of thyroid hormones and cortisol, indicating high levels of stress, another known contributor to heart disease.

The results clearly showed that working when you should be sleeping takes a short-term toll on your heart, said study author Daniel Kuetting, M.D., of the Department of Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology at the University of Bonn in a press release. But, he added, more research needs to be done to see how long the negative effects last and how much sleep it takes to return to normal. It makes sense, however, that repeatedly skipping sleep would set you up for ongoing health problems, especially when done the way most people do it in the real world—with gallons of coffee, diet soda, or other stimulants, which make the heart work even harder.

Bottom line? When in doubt, sleep it out. And if your job (or kid) requires you to be up all night, try to do it as infrequently as possible and make sure you're doing other things to keep your ticker in top shape, like exercising and eating a heart-healthy diet. (Try these Top 20 Best Foods for Your Heart!)

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