Folks who have trouble falling or staying asleep may be more likely to have a heart attack.
This is the main takeaway from new research linking insomnia to heart woes. Specifically, people with insomnia were 69% more likely to have a heart attack than folks without the sleep disorder. These rates were even higher among people with both diabetes and insomnia, the study showed.
“Insomnia puts the body under stress which triggers [the stress hormone] cortisol release and can accelerate atherosclerosis,” said study author Yomna Dean, a medical student at Alexandria University in Alexandria, Egypt. Atherosclerosis refers to the buildup of plaque in and on the artery walls that can set the stage for a heart attack.
The findings were published Feb. 25 in Clinical Cardiology and will be presented at a joint meeting of the American College of Cardiology and World Congress of Cardiology, in New Orleans, and online March 6.
For the study, Dean and colleagues culled data from more than 1,200 studies that included close to 1.2 million adults. Of these, 13% (nearly 154,000) had insomnia. Most did not have a history of heart attack.
After nine years of follow-up, about 2,400 people who had insomnia and almost 12,400 without insomnia had a heart attack.
Folks who slept five or fewer hours a night had the greatest heart attack risk, the study showed.
Too much sleep wasn’t good for heart health, either.
People who slept six hours or less had a lower risk of heart attack than those who slept nine hours. “We were surprised,” Dean said at a media briefing.
Folks who had trouble falling or staying asleep were 13% more likely to have a heart attack compared with people without these problems. Other insomnia symptoms, such as non-restorative sleep and daytime sleepiness, didn’t affect heart attack risk, the study showed.
What’s more, seniors with insomnia were twice as likely to have heart attacks as their counterparts without this sleep disorder. Young people with insomnia also had a higher risk for heart attacks. These findings held even after researchers controlled for other known heart attack risk factors such as age and smoking status.
Outside experts agree that sleep should be taken more seriously.
Getting good quality sleep should be a priority, said Dr. Julia Grapsa, a consultant cardiologist at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London.
“Waking up and going back to sleep is bad quality sleep,” Grapsa said.
Start improving your sleep habits by making sure your bedroom is quiet, cool and dark and used only for sleep, Grapsa suggested.
“Take time to wind down and prepare for sleep,” she said.
It’s also important to let your doctor know about any sleep issues, Grapsa added.
Insomnia has been consistently linked to an increase in risk for heart and blood vessel diseases, including high blood pressure, said Dr. Virend Somers, cardiologist and director of the Cardiovascular Facility and the Sleep Facility at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
“This meta-analysis suggests that there may also be an increase in the risk of heart attacks,” he said.
“Until we better understand and address the specific mechanisms linking insomnia to cardiovascular risk, people who suffer from insomnia with short sleep may benefit from more intense management of cardiovascular risk factors, such as having their blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood glucose monitored and treated as needed,” Somers said.
A healthy diet and regular exercise may also help reduce any increased heart disease risks in people with insomnia.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides tips on good sleep hygiene.
SOURCES: Yomna Dean, medical student, Alexandria University, Alexandria, Egypt; Julia Grapsa, MD, PhD, consultant cardiologist, St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London; Virend Somers, MD, PhD, cardiologist, Mayo Clinic, director, Cardiovascular Facility and Sleep Facility, Center for Clinical and Translational Science, Rochester, Minn.; Clinical Cardiology, Feb. 25, 2023; presentation, American College of Cardiology meeting, New Orleans and online, March 4-6, 2023
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