Insomnia May Raise Heart Attack Risk

Study Shows Poor Sleepers Have More Heart Attacks Than Those Without Insomnia

From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 24, 2011 -- Poor sleepers who toss and turn most nights may be at risk for more than just daytime sleepiness.

Chronic insomnia has been linked to depression and anxiety, and now a large study from Norway finds that it may also increase the risk of heart attacks.

People in the study with insomnia symptoms had more heart attacks than people without insomnia symptoms, and those with the most symptoms had the highest risk.

Study researcher Lars Erik Laugsand, MD, of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, says more research is needed to confirm the findings in different populations and to understand how lack of sleep may affect the heart.

"If the association is confirmed, addressing sleep problems could prove to be an important intervention to lower heart attack risk," he tells WebMD. "Insomnia is quite common and it is fairly easy to treat. People need to be aware of this potential connection."

Insomnia and the Heart

In a recent poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, about two-thirds of respondents (63%) reported not getting enough sleep; 43% said they rarely or never got a good night's sleep on weeknights.

Insomnia can include having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep or having troubled sleep that is not restful and restorative.

Several earlier studies have suggested a link between insomnia and blood pressure. But only a few small studies have examined the effect of poor sleep on heart disease, Laugsand says.

The newly published study included more than 50,000 Norwegian adults enrolled in a national health survey between 1995 and 1997.

During a follow-up of 11 years, 2,386 of the enrollees had first-time heart attacks.

After taking into account known heart attack risk factors like age, blood pressure, cholesterol, and obesity, the researchers found that people with insomnia had more heart attacks than people who rarely had trouble sleeping.

When they considered the most common insomnia symptoms, they found that:

  • People who had trouble falling asleep most nights over the previous month had a 45% higher risk for heart attacks.
  • People who had trouble staying asleep had a 30% increase in heart attack risk.
  • Waking up feeling unrefreshed in the morning more than once a week was associated with a 27% higher heart attack risk.