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Updated 02 August 2017

Sleepless nights linked to risk of heart attack

New research suggests that chronic wakefulness might leave its mark on the cardiovascular system.

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Most people have experienced insomnia at some stage in their lives. If, however, it becomes chronic, it might be a good idea to get professional help. 

Bad news for people who toss and turn all night is that insomnia appears to be linked to a heightened risk for heart attack or stroke, a Chinese research review suggests.

"We found that difficulty initiating sleep, difficulty maintaining sleep, or non-restorative sleep were associated with 27%, 11%, and 18% higher risks of cardiovascular and stroke events, respectively," said study co-author Qiao He.

The findings were published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

The reasons why aren't fully understood, said He, a graduate student at China Medical University in Shenyang.

However, the study doesn't establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

Insomnia's harmful effects

In South Africa 210 people die from heart disease every day, and after HIV/Aids, heart disease and stroke are the second biggest killers in South Africa. Non-communicable diseases (lifestyle-related conditions), including heart disease, are estimated to account for 43% of the deaths of adults in our country.

Sleep specialists say millions of Americans get too little sleep. "In modern society, more and more people complain of insomnia," He said.

Evidence of insomnia's harmful effects on overall health has accumulated in recent years.

"Previous studies have shown that insomnia may change metabolism and endocrine function, increase [nervous system] activation, raise blood pressure," He said. It also can spark a rise in levels of certain inflammation-related proteins. All of these are risk factors for heart disease and stroke, she explained.

Women more prone to insomnia

For this report, the investigators looked at 15 studies that enlisted nearly 161 000 participants in all. The studies variously explored potential links between insomnia and a range of heart disease concerns, including heart attack, stroke and heart failure.

The association between insomnia and heart attack and stroke risk might even be slightly stronger among women. But that finding did not reach "statistical significance", He's team said in a news release from the European Society of Cardiology.

"However, we do know that women are more prone to insomnia because of differences in genetics, sex hormones, stress, and reaction to stress," said He. "It may therefore be prudent to pay more attention to women's sleep health."

She added that "health education is needed to increase public awareness of insomnia symptoms and the potential risks, so that people with sleep problems are encouraged to seek help."

Read more:

7 causes of insomnia

Natural remedies for insomnia

Meditation: insomnia help?

 
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