Those who suffer from insomnia seem to have a higher risk of developing heart failure, according to the largest study to investigate the link.
The study, which is published online in the European Heart Journal, followed 54,279 people between the ages of 20-89 for an average of more than 11 years. The results suggested that those who suffered from three symptoms of insomnia were at a three times more risk of developing heart failure compared to those with no insomnia symptoms.
Dr Lars Laugsand, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Public Health, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway, said: “We related heart failure risk to three major insomnia symptoms including trouble falling asleep, problems staying asleep, and not waking up feeling refreshed in the morning. In our study, we found that persons suffering from insomnia have increased risk of having heart failure. Those reporting suffering from all three insomnia symptoms simultaneously were at considerably higher risk than those who had no symptoms or only one or two symptoms.”
The study only establishes an association but does not prove causality. “We do not know whether heart failure is really caused by insomnia, but if it is, insomnia is a potentially treatable condition using strategies such as following simple recommendations concerning sleeping habits [sleep hygiene], and several psychological and pharmacological therapies. Evaluation of sleep problems might provide additional information that could be used in prevention of heart failure.”
He also added that further research would be required to establish whether or not insomnia caused the condition. “It is still unclear why insomnia is linked to higher heart failure risk. We have some indications that there might be a biological cause, and one possible explanation could be that insomnia activates stress responses in the body that might negatively affect heart function. However, further research is also needed to find the possible mechanisms for this association.”
When the research team looked at the number of symptoms, it found a statistically significant three-fold [353 per cent] increased risk of heart failure for people who had all three insomnia symptoms, compared to those with none, not considering the participants who were depressed and anxious. If the depression and anxiety afflicted participants were included in the analysis, the risk went up to more than four-fold risk [425 per cent] of heart failure.
The authors write in their paper: “We found a moderate risk increase related to the individual insomnia symptoms. However, the risk among those with all the three insomnia symptoms simultaneously was particularly high even after adjustment for established cardiovascular risk factors and psychological distress. This finding may be interpreted as suggesting that compromising some aspects of sleep may be somehow compensated for, and the net effect on cardiovascular disease may be limited. For example, having difficulty falling asleep might be compensated for by a satisfactory depth and a good continuity of sleep. However, if the initiation of sleep is poor and combined with repeated awakenings and superficial sleep, there may not be any compensatory mechanisms.”
Hence let’s not sacrifice sleep at the altar of modern life. Let’s recognise its due importance and make amends to our lifestyle.