Insomniacs may have a greater risk of heart failure and stroke

Insomniacs may have a greater risk of coronary artery disease, heart failure and stroke, scientists discover

  • Researchers found people with a genetic trait for insomnia faced higher odds
  • It is not understood if insomnia, a sleep disorder, causes heart problems
  • Insomnia has been linked to increase risk of death, diabetes and other illnesses 

Insomniacs may have a greater risk of coronary artery disease, heart failure and stroke, scientists believe.

In a study of over one million people, those who had genetic traits for insomnia were at higher odds of suffering heart diseases.

The findings build on previous evidence that links the sleep disorder with cardiac events or illness. 

It is unclear, however, if the lack of sleep is what causes the life-threatening problems or they are just genetically linked.  

Insomnia is believed to affect up to three in ten people, while coronary artery disease is one of the world’s biggest killers.

Insomniacs may have a greater risk of coronary artery disease, heart failure and stroke, scientists have found after conducting a study

Researchers found people who had genetic traits for insomnia were at higher odds of suffering a cardiac event – but it is not clear if the sleep disorder causes the heart disease or stroke

The research was led by Dr Susanna Larsson, an associate professor of cardiovascular and nutritional epidemiology at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden.

She said: ‘It’s important to identify the underlying reason for insomnia and treat it.

‘Sleep is a behavior that can be changed by new habits and stress management.’  

Insomnia means you regularly have problems sleeping. It usually gets better by changing your sleeping habits.

You have insomnia if you regularly: find it hard to go to sleep, wake up several times during the night, lie awake at night, wake up early and can’t go back to sleep, still feel tired after waking up

Everyone needs different amounts of sleep. On average, adults need 7 to 9 hours, while children need 9 to 13 hours.

You probably don’t get enough sleep if you’re constantly tired during the day.

The most common causes of insomnia are: stress, anxiety or depression, excessive noise, an uncomfortable bed or alcohol, caffeine or nicotine.

Insomnia usually gets better by changing your sleeping habits. For example, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, and only going to bed when you feel tired.

Source: NHS

The study, published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation, used a technique known as ‘Mendelian randomisation’. 

Mendelian randomisation is a research method that uses genetic variants known to be connected with a potential risk factor, such as insomnia, to discover the relations to a disease.

The 1.3million participants with or without heart disease and stroke were drawn from four major public studies in Europe, including the UK Biobank. 

Researchers analysed 248 genetic markers – called SNPs – known to play a role in insomnia against the odds of CAD, heart failure, ischemic stroke and atrial fibrillation. 

People at genetic risk of insomnia have an increased risk of heart attacks by 13 per cent, of heart failure by 16 per cent, and of strokes by seven per cent – particularity large artery stroke. 

The findings remained even with adjustments for smoking and depression, which have been found to have genetic ties to insomnia.

Dr Larsson suggested insomnia causes a heightened sympathetic nervous system, the body’s source of stimulating the fight-or-flight response, inflammation and a condition called cardiometabolic risk factors.

The term cardiometabolic risk describes a person’s chances of damaging their heart and blood vessels when one or more risk factors are present.

The authors noted a limitation to this study is that the results represent a genetic variant link to insomnia rather than insomnia itself. 

According to Dr Larsson, it was not possible to determine whether or not the individuals with cardiovascular disease had insomnia. 

The recommended hours of sleep for people vary across age groups.

An adult aged between 18 and 60 should get at least seven hours of sleep per night, according to the website of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Figures from the Royal Society for Public Health estimate the average person sleeps for 6.8 hours a night, but the the NHS recommends people get eight hours.

Regular poor sleep puts you at risk of serious medical conditions, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

It shortens your life expectancy, according to the NHS, and has previously been linked to a greater risk of cancer. 

More than 40million people suffer from long-term sleep disorders in the US, data from the CDC shows. While it is estimated there are 1.5million patients in the UK.


Poor sleep can lead to worrying and worrying can lead to poor sleep, according to the mental-health charity Mind.

A lack of shut eye is considered a problem when it impacts on a person’s daily life.

As a result, they may feel anxious if they believe lack of sleep prevents them from rationalising their thoughts.

Insomnia is also associated with depression, psychosis and PTSD.

Establishing a sleep routine where you go to bed and get up at the same time every day can help a person spend less time in bed and more time asleep.

Calming music, breathing exercises, visualising pleasant memories and meditation also encourage shut eye. 

Having tech-free time an hour or so before bed can also prepare you for sleep. 

If you still struggle to nod off, keeping a sleep diary where you record the hours you spend asleep and the quality of your shut eye on a scale of one to five can be a good thing to show your doctor.

Also note how many times you wake in the night, if you need to nap, if you have nightmares, your diet and your general mood.

Sleep problems can be a sign of an underlying physical condition, like pain.

Talking therapies can help your recongise unhelpful thought patterns that might affect sleep.

While medication, such as sleeping pills, can help break short periods of insomnia and help you return to better a sleeping pattern. 

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