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Can't sleep? You could be at higher risk of a heart attack

New study links insomnia, heart attacks

October 25, 2011

Heart AttackA new study finds that people who suffer from insomnia have a greater heart attack risk than sound sleepers.

The research reported in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association was able to quantify the elevated risk for three separate symptoms of insomnia, compared with people who never or almost never experienced trouble sleeping:

• People had trouble falling asleep almost daily in the last month had a 45 percent higher heart attack risk;
• Those who had problems staying asleep almost every night in the last month had a 30 percent higher heart attack risk; and
• People who didn’t wake up feeling refreshed in the morning more than once a week had a 27 percent higher heart attack risk.

Heart attack risk also increases with each additional insomnia symptom, researchers said.

The study's authors recommended that patients and healthcare providers should discuss sleep problems and be aware of their connection to heart attack risk.

“Sleep problems are common and fairly easy to treat,” said Lars Erik Laugsand, M.D., lead researcher and internist from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology Department of Public Health in Trondheim. “So it’s important that people are aware of this connection between insomnia and heart attack and talk to their doctor if they’re having symptoms.”
 
The study was based on 52,610 Norwegian adults who answered questions about insomnia as part of a national health survey in 1995-97. Researchers examined hospital records and Norway’s National Cause of Death Registry to identify 2,368 people who had first-time heart attacks during the following 11 years.
 
The researchers used survival analysis to adjust for factors that could influence the results such as age, sex, marital status, education level, blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, weight, exercise and shift work. They also considered depression and anxiety, both of which can cause insomnia.
 
Up to 33 percent of people in the general population experience at least one insomnia symptom, according to researchers. Previous smaller studies have linked insomnia to heart disease, including high blood pressure and heart attacks. Every year, about 785,000 Americans have a first-time heart attack.
 
It’s unclear why insomnia is linked to higher heart attack risk. Some suggest sleep problems affect heart attack risk factors such as high blood pressure and inflammation.
 
Researchers didn’t adjust for obstructive sleep apnea, and results may not apply to Americans because their daylight hours and sleep patterns differ from Norwegians, said Laugsand, noting that further study is needed.
 
Co-authors are Lars J. Vatten, M.D., Ph.D.; Carl Platou, M.D. and Imre Janszky, M.D., Ph.D.