Those sleepless nights you’re having may have deadlier consequences than a simple lack of energy in the morning. According to a new meta-analysis of existing studies, insomnia, heart attack, and stroke may have a closer link to each other than once thought.
Simply put, insomnia is a condition where one has difficulty falling asleep, or tends to wake up in the middle of their sleep. As it is associated with our sleeping patterns, it tends to make us feel tired, sleepy, or cranky in the daytime, and as far as its risks are concerned, obvious ones include higher chances of committing errors at work or at school, or getting into accidents.
According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, these are just some of the potential dangers of insomnia, though it may, in some cases, result in depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders, or drive substance abuse. High blood pressure and heart disease are last in the list of risks, though these are filed mainly under “long-term diseases or conditions.”
Separately, the National Sleep Foundation warned about sleep deprivation and how it could affect people’s heart health. The organization’s blog post stated that based on an earlier study on adults over the age of 45, people who sleep less than six hours a night are “about twice as likely” to suffer from a stroke or heart attack than people who get at least six to eight hours of sleep a day.
It would appear that it’s long been recognized that insomnia and heart attacks and strokes may have some sort of relation to each other. But new research hopes to prove a more consistent link between lack of sleep and the aforementioned health events, something that had mostly been lacking in previous research, wrote PsychCentral.
“Sleep is important for biological recovery and takes around a third of our lifetime, but in modern society, more and more people complain of insomnia,” said study first author and China Medical University graduate student Qiao He in a statement. “For example, it is reported that approximately one-third of the general population in Germany has suffered from insomnia symptoms.”
PsychCentral wrote that the researchers used 15 prospective cohort studies in their meta-analysis, with over 160,000 people covered by all the studies combined. Out of those cases, they had found 11,702 adverse health events in a median follow-up time of three to 29.6 years. Further delving deeper and looking at these health events, the researchers found “significant associations” between some of insomnia’s classic symptoms – trouble initiating or maintaining sleep and non-restorative sleep – and heart attack and stroke risk. All in all, people with insomnia were about 11 to 27 percent more likely to experience these events, depending on the symptom, than people who don’t suffer from any insomnia symptoms.
Women with insomnia symptoms were found to be more likely to have a heart attack or stroke than men with insomnia were, particularly when it came to non-restorative sleep, though the difference was not statistically significant enough. And while the researchers found a link between insomnia and heart attack/stroke probability regardless of gender, they did not find any substantial link between early morning awakening and the above-mentioned health events.
The researchers added that it isn’t completely sure why insomnia is linked to a greater chance of heart attack or stroke.
“The underlying mechanisms for these links are not completely understood. Previous studies have shown that insomnia may change metabolism and endocrine function, increase sympathetic activation, raise blood pressure, and elevate levels of pro-inflammatory and inflammatory cytokines — all of which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke.”
Granted, insomnia is a very common problem that affects millions of people around the world. And in order for people with insomnia to avoid heart attacks, strokes, and other adverse health events, the researchers believe that certain tools are needed, including health education to increase awareness of insomnia symptoms and its dangers, so that people suffering from sleep issues can “seek help” for their condition.
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