Are you having difficulty sleeping? Your heart may suffer as a result.
Poor sleep is now being linked to several health issues, including a higher risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease, according to increasing data. A new study of people in their midlife indicates that a combination of sleep issues, such as difficulty falling asleep, waking up in the middle of the night, or sleeping less than six hours each night, can virtually triple a person's risk of heart disease.
"These new findings emphasize the importance of obtaining enough sleep," says Harvard Medical School assistant professor of medicine and sleep specialist Dr Lawrence Epstein. He goes on to say that a lack of sleep can be caused by a variety of factors. Some people just do not schedule enough sleep time. Others have sleep-disrupting or interfering behaviours. Some persons also have a medical ailment or a sleep problem that causes them to lose sleep quality or quantity.
Who was in the study group?
The researchers used information from 7,483 persons who participated in the Midlife in the United States Study and provided information on their sleep habits and history of heart disease. A small group of participants (663 persons) also wore a wrist-worn gadget that tracked their sleep patterns (actigraphy). Women made up slightly more than half of the participants. Three-quarters said they were white, while 16% said they were black. The average age was 53 years old.
The researchers selected to study people in their midlife years since this is when adults typically encounter diverse and difficult life experiences in their work and family life. It's also when clogged heart arteries or atherosclerosis (an early indicator of heart disease) first appear, as well as age-related sleep problems.
What criteria did researchers use to evaluate sleep problems?
A composite of many characteristics of sleep was used to assess sleep health, including
regularity (whether participants slept longer on workdays versus non-work days)
satisfaction (whether they had difficulty getting asleep, woke up in the middle of the night or early the next morning and couldn't get back to sleep, or felt drowsy during the day)
alertness (how often they napped for more than five minutes)
efficiency (how long it took them to fall asleep at bedtime)
length of time (how many hours they typically slept each night).
To examine heart problems, researchers asked participants "Have you ever been suspected or verified by a doctor of having heart trouble?" and "Have you ever had intense discomfort across the front of your chest that lasted for at least a half-hour?"
A "yes" response to either question led to more questions concerning the diagnosis, which included angina (chest pain caused by insufficient blood flow to the heart muscle), heart attack, heart valve dysfunction, irregular or rapid heartbeat, and heart failure.
Sleep deprivation is associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
The researchers took into account potential confounding variables such as the family history of heart disease, smoking, physical exercise, as well as sex and race. They discovered that each extra rise in self-reported sleep issues was associated with a 54% greater risk of heart disease as compared to persons who slept normally. However, the increase in risk was significantly greater — 141 per cent — among individuals who provided self-reported and wrist-worn device actigraphy data, which are thought to be more accurate when combined.
Men were more likely to suffer from heart disease than women, despite the fact that women reported more sleep issues. However, sex had no effect on the relationships between sleep and cardiovascular health.
While black participants reported having more sleep and heart-related problems than white participants, the association between the two concerns was not significantly different by race.
What does this imply for you personally?
If you're having difficulty falling or staying asleep, there are a variety of treatment options available, ranging from basic changes to your daily routine to professional cognitive behavioral therapy focused on sleep concerns. These are all worthwhile attempts, as getting a good night's sleep benefits you in several ways.
"Treating sleep problems that impair sleep can enhance your alertness during the day, improve your quality of life, and lessen the health risks associated with inadequate sleep," Dr Epstein explains.