Study suggests insomnia increases cardiovascular risk by 16 per cent; here’s what to know

Experts have emphasised on sleep being an important factor to help the body rejuvenate and recover every day. A new study indicates that insomnia can heighten the risk of cardiovascular diseases or CVDs. Published in the journal Sleep Advances, the study indicated insomnia can raise the risk of CVDs by 16 per cent. It analysed just over 1,000 people with an average age of 62 years old, who had all experienced a heart attack or a procedure to open blocked arteries in the past (average of) 16 months.

The participants filled out a questionnaire on energy levels, their ability to fall asleep and stay asleep, etc., while data on other risk factors for heart health were collected from their medical records.

All participants were tracked for an average of just over four years, to see if/when any major adverse cardiovascular events (MACE) occurred, such as stroke, heart failure, or cardiovascular death.

The study found nearly half of the participants had insomnia at the start of the study, and 24 per cent had used sleep medication recently. During the follow-up period, 364 MACE had occurred in 225 of the participants, according to the study.

In a press statement, medical student and lead author of the study Lars Frojd said, “This means that 16 per cent of recurrent major adverse cardiovascular events might have been avoided if none of the participants had insomnia,” However, he also added that “further research is needed” to determine if insomnia treatment would help heart patients. But the research indicated that patients should be assessed for insomnia and offered resources to support their sleep either way.

Why is sleep important?

Sleep is very important part of our day to day life, said Dr Rahul Chhabria, consultant cardiologist, Bhatia Hospital, Mumbai. “It gives rest to both our body and our mind. Whenever we sleep our blood pressures reduces a little bit, about 10 per cent compared to that of day time which is called nocturnal deep sleep. However, lack of such sleep, doesn’t let the blood pressure reduce which is associated with the event of a cardiovascular risk,” he said.

What is insomnia?

Dr Praveen Kulkarni, senior cardiologist at Global Hospitals Parel, Mumbai explained that insomnia is regarded as the inability to fall asleep, staying asleep, or ending up with early morning wakefulness. “Prevalence of insomnia is rising considering today’s lifestyle. Frequent wakefulness or inability to sleep causes variation in the blood pressure response, in the heart rate response in the body, and activates some hormonal imbalances, as well. Indirectly, such individuals also end up being physically inactive, and have altered eating habits which leads to hypertension which is the commonest prevalent cardiovascular disease. They are two-three times more likely to end up with heart diseases and complications. They are likely to be diabetic, have stroke, and become obese,” he said.

heart health, cardiovascular, lack of sleep, work stress, indianexpress, lifestyle Work stress and lack of sleep can raise the chance of death by cardiovascular disease. (Source: iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Why does it happen?

According to Dr Kulkarni, though there are no clear reasons why insomnia affects heart health, he said, “broadly, it is the resultant stress response to unhealthy lifestyle habits”.

What can be done?

*Maintain sleep hygiene
*Avoid screen time before sleep
*Early to bed, early to rise is crucial
*Avoid day time naps
*Avoid alcohol, caffeine intake closer to sleep
*Need to exercise regularly

If these measures fail, the individual needs to consult a sleep specialist, he said while adding that OSA or Obstructive Sleep Apnea which blocks the airway, should also be checked to reduce the risk of CVDs. “As a result, the patient takes deep breaths which is called snoring. Such episodes of apnea and snoring lead to cacosomnia that is responsible for hypertension, increased stress, and feeling of not being fresh in the morning. Such patients tend to sleep during day time,” said Dr Ruchit Shah, interventional cardiologist, Masina Hospital, Mumbai.

Changing the sleeping habits and addressing any issues that may be associated with insomnia, such as stress, medical conditions or medications, can restore restful sleep for many people, said Dr Bharat Kukreti, associate director, cardiology, Paras Hospitals, Gurugram.

“If these measures don’t work, a doctor may recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), medications or both, to help improve relaxation and sleep. CBT can help one to control or eliminate negative thoughts and actions that keep us awake and is generally recommended as the first line of treatment for people with insomnia,” said Dr Kukreti.

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