Insomnia and Heart Failure
Everyone has a night now and then that they just can't sleep. But if sleeplessness starts to occur more regularly, it may become more than a nuisance. Insomnia has been linked to a number of health issues, the latest of which is the potential development of cardiac failure, according to a new study.
The research, which was conducted at Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway, established an association between chronic sleep problems and heart failure at some point in the future, even if there was no previous indication of cardiovascular disease.1 The subjects were 54,279 men and women who showed no signs of heart failure. Their medical information was reviewed for a period from 1995 through 1997 in regard to any insomnia sleeping disorder they experienced. The scientists followed up with the participants in 2008, to learn that more than 1,400 of them were diagnosed with cardiac failure by that point.
The more severe and more frequent the symptoms of insomnia, the greater the risk of developing heart failure eventually. Some of the sleeping disorder categories the researchers outlined included "difficulty initiating sleep," "difficulty maintaining sleep," and sleep was "non-restorative." In addition, the volunteers were asked to estimate the frequency with which they were experiencing these symptoms. Those who suffered from difficulty initiating sleep on a nearly nightly basis were found to have a risk of having heart failure approximately three times greater than their peers who rarely or never have insomnia. And when symptoms were combined (adding difficulty maintaining sleep and non-restorative sleep to trouble initiating sleep), the risk of developing heart failure jumped to more than four times that of the subjects who generally got a good night's sleep.
The scientists controlled for a number of influences, including other heart disease risk factors, age, physical activity levels, and gender. But even after adjusting for the effects of these related dynamics, it was determined that an association seems to definitely exist between heart failure and chronic insomnia.
These results should be no surprise to most of us, though. Insomnia has been linked in many studies to depression, anxiety, becoming overweight, immune system problems, and a heightened risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.2 A possible reason for cardiac problems resulting from sleeplessness may have been discovered in a 2009 study at the Universite de Montreal and Hopital du Sacre-Couer de Montreal in Canada. The researchers found that blood pressure is elevated during sleep in those with insomnia, while for the rest of us, blood pressure falls during sleep.3 That means the non-insomniacs' cardiovascular systems get a break every night, while the insomniacs' hearts have to work harder basically 24-7, leading to damage over time.
So, what can you do if you find yourself tossing and turning, night after night? A visit to the doctor is not likely to provide you with the kind of help you truly need. Many physicians will tell you that insomnia has an easy fix in sleeping pills. In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation, 25 percent of Americans take some sleep aid each year.4 But these are strong pharmaceuticals, with side effects and very real risks. A 2012 study at the Scripps Clinic in La Jolla, California, found that taking sleeping pills regularly increases mortality risk by five times. And even very infrequent use--we're talking one pill a year--can increase the risk of dying by 3.5 times.5
Clearly, sleeping pills are not the best answer. Instead, try some lifestyle changes and natural options. Cut back on all alcohol and caffeine consumption during the evening, as both substances can prevent you from sleeping soundly. Exercise earlier in the day and save light stretching for nighttime. Take a warm shower to get both physically and mentally relaxed. Make sure your bedroom is sleep-ready, with a mattress that's firm enough but not too hard, a comfortable temperature on the thermostat, and a truly dark environment as any light disrupts natural melatonin production in your body. Finally, supplements such as melatonin (for those who don't produce enough on their own) can promote sleep, but start at a low dosage to ensure you don't overdo it.6 Timed release melatonin is even better. Other supplements that might be helpful include magnesium, ashwagandha, L-theanine, and proteolytic enzymes to help relieve any minor aches and pains that might prevent you from sleeping. Hopefully, with a few minor adjustments, you can get the rest your body needs to be healthy.
- 1. Wood, Shelley. "Insomnia Linked to Future Heart Failure." WebMD. 6 March 2013. Accessed 11 March 2013. http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/news/20130306/insomnia-heart-failure
- 2. "Insomnia Complications." Mayo Clinic. 7 January 2011. Accessed 12 March 2013. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/insomnia/DS00187/DSECTION=complications
- 3. "Insomnia Is Bad For The Heart; Increases Blood Pressure." Science Daily. 6 September 2009. Accessed 12 March 2013. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090904165238.htm
- 4. "Sleep Aids and Insomnia." National Sleep Foundation. Accessed 12 March 2013. http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-related-problems/sleep-aids-and-insomnia
- 5. Bankhead, Charles. "Sleeping Pill Death Toll May Top 500,000." Med Page Today. 27 Febrary 2012. Accessed 12 March 2013. http://www.medpagetoday.com/PrimaryCare/SleepDisorders/31391
- 6. Mark, David A. "Cognitive Health, Dietary Supplements, and Sleep: Melatonin." Nutritional Outlook. 8 February 2012. Accessed 12 March 2013. http://www.nutritionaloutlook.com/1201/cognitive