A heart attack is a serious medical emergency in which the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked, usually by a blood clot. Symptoms include chest pain, shortness or breath and feeling weak or light-headed. Heart disease is the leading cause of heart attacks. A new study reveals a chilling association between heart disease and a common sleep disorder.
According to new research published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation, people suffering from insomnia may have an increased risk of coronary artery disease, heart failure and stroke.
Previous observational studies have found an association between insomnia, which affects up to 30 per cent of the general population, and an increased risk of developing heart disease and stroke.
These observational studies were unable to determine whether insomnia is a cause, or if it is just associated with them, explained Susanna Larsson, Ph.D., lead study author and associate professor of cardiovascular and nutritional epidemiology at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden.
In this first-of-its-kind study on insomnia, Larsson and a colleague applied Mendelian randomisation, a technique that uses genetic variants known to be connected with a potential risk factor, such as insomnia, to reduce bias in the results. The 1.3 million participants with or without heart disease and stroke were drawn from four major public studies and groups.
Researchers found genetic variants for insomnia were associated with significantly higher odds of coronary artery disease, heart failure and ischemic stroke – particularly large artery stroke, but not atrial fibrillation.
“It’s important to identify the underlying reason for insomnia and treat it,” Larsson said.
She added: “Sleep is a behaviour that can be changed by new habits and stress management.”
A limitation to this study is that the results represent a genetic variant link to insomnia rather than insomnia itself.
According to Larsson, it was not possible to determine whether or not the individuals with cardiovascular disease had insomnia.
According to the NHS, there are a number of simple lifestyle adjustments people can make to treat insomnia.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day – only go to bed when feeling tired
- Relax at least one hour before bed – for example, take a bath or read a book
- Make sure the bedroom is dark and quiet – use thick curtains, blinds, an eye mask or ear plugs
- Exercise regularly during the day
- Make sure the mattress, pillows and covers are comfortable
People can also get sleeping aids from a pharmacy. But they will not get rid of the insomnia and they have many side effects, warned the health site.
“Sleeping aids can often make you drowsy the next day. You might find it hard to get things done,” it added.
If the problem persists, a GP may recommend cognitive behavioural therapy.
As Mayo Clinic explained: “Cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) can help you control or eliminate negative thoughts and actions that keep you awake and is generally recommended as the first line of treatment for people with insomnia.”
It added: “Typically, CBT-I is equally or more effective than sleep medications.”