Cardiovascular Stress Reactivity and Carotid Intima-Media Thickness: The Buffering Role of Slow-Wave Sleep

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Exaggerated cardiovascular reactivity to acute psychological stress has been associated with increased carotid intima-media thickness (IMT). However, interstudy variability in this relationship suggests the presence of moderating factors. The current study aimed to test the hypothesis that poor nocturnal sleep, defined as short total sleep time or low slow-wave sleep, would moderate the relationship between cardiovascular reactivity and IMT.


Participants (N = 99, 65.7% female, age = 59.3 ± 9.3 years) completed a two-night laboratory sleep study and cardiovascular examination where sleep and IMT were measured. The multisource interference task was used to induce acute psychological stress, while systolic and diastolic blood pressure and heart rate were monitored. Moderation was tested using the PROCESS framework in SPSS.


Slow-wave sleep significantly moderated the relationship between all cardiovascular stress reactivity variables and IMT (all pinteraction ≤ .048, all ΔR2interaction ≥ .027). Greater stress reactivity was associated with higher IMT values in the low slow-wave sleep group and lower IMT values in the high slow-wave sleep group. No moderating effects of total sleep time were observed.


The results provide evidence that nocturnal slow-wave sleep moderates the relationship between cardiovascular stress reactivity and IMT and may buffer the effect of daytime stress-related disease processes.

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