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    HealthStudy links insomnia to increased risk of heart attack

    Study links insomnia to increased risk of heart attack

    (CNN) — It’s no secret that sleep is important for overall health, but lack of sleep could also have major effects on the heart, a new study reveals. According to researchers, people with insomnia are more likely to have a heart attack.

    Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder in the United States, according to the researchers’ report, who point out that between 10% and 15% of the country’s population suffers from it.

    A meta-analysis of previously published research, released Friday in the journal Clinical Cardiology, suggests that the possible association between insomnia and heart attack risk is stronger in women.

    Dr. Martha Gulati, director of Prevention at the Cedars-Sinai Smidt Heart Institute, said the majority of her patients are women and that insomnia is a notable risk factor for those who have had some form of ischemic heart disease.

    “Insomnia is actually quite common. It is probably suffered by one in 10 patients in the United States,” said Gulati, who was not involved in the new research. “It seems to me that almost everyone experiences insomnia at some point in their lives. It is estimated that one in two adults experience it at some point in their lives, perhaps in the short term due to stressful events.”

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    For their analysis, the researchers—from medical institutions in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, as well as from SUNY Medical University and Harvard Medical School in the United States—defined insomnia as a sleep disorder with three main symptoms:

    • Difficulty getting to sleep
    • Difficulty staying asleep
    • Waking up early and not being able to go back to sleep

    The analysis included data over 11 years from 1,184,256 adults from the United States, United Kingdom, Norway, Germany, Taiwan, and China.

    Of the participants, 153,881 had insomnia and 1,030,375 did not. The researchers found that people with insomnia were 1.69 times more likely to have a heart attack than people without insomnia. Heart attack numbers were still relatively low, occurring in about 1.6% of people with insomnia and 1.2% of those without.

    The study also found a relationship between the increased risk of heart attack and the length of time the participants slept each night. Those who slept five hours or less had the strongest association with heart attack risk and were 1.56 times more likely to have a heart attack than people who slept seven or eight hours.

    Longer sleep duration was not always more protective. The study found that people who slept six hours a night had a lower risk of heart attack than those who slept nine hours or more.

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    “Many studies have pointed out that seven to eight hours of sleep is the magic number for us,” Gulati said. “Obviously, there is variability for each person, but sleeping too much is rarely the problem.”

    The study notes that this increased risk of heart attack among people with insomnia persisted regardless of age or gender.

    According to Gulati, lack of sleep can increase the risk of heart attack in several ways. The regulation of cortisol is essential.

    Cortisol is a hormone responsible for regulating the body’s response to stress. If the levels are too high, it will increase the body’s blood pressure. When a person sleeps well, their blood pressure drops at night.

    “What really happens when you don’t get enough sleep is that cortisol goes haywire,” Gulati explained. “If you have sleep problems, we know that your blood pressure is higher at night.”

    Higher blood pressure at night, caused by cortisol imbalance, is one potential pathway to increased heart disease risk, he noted.

    The study authors stated that insomnia should be considered a risk factor in guidelines for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease.

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    “We now have evidence that sleep is medicine,” said study lead author Dr. Hani Aiash, a cardiologist and associate dean for Interprofessional Research at Upstate Medical University’s College of Health Professions. “So good sleep is prevention.”

    “If you haven’t slept well (…) for less than five or six hours, you’re putting yourself at higher risk of heart attack. Sleep pattern is very important.”

    However, “we don’t need nine hours,” Aiash said. “More than nine hours is also harmful.”

    How to combat insomnia?

    To prevent insomnia and improve sleep, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends five easy steps:

    • Go to sleep at the same time each night and get up at a similar time each morning, including weekends. This helps establish a rhythm for your body.
    • Make sure that the bedroom is a relaxing, quiet and dark space, with a comfortable temperature.
    • Remove smartphones, televisions and computers from the room.
    • Also, avoiding large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime also gives your body a better chance of getting a good night’s sleep.
    • Lastly, stay active during the day.

    If after following the recommendations you continue to have trouble coping with insomnia, you should talk to your doctor about other possible remedies and treatments, the centers say.


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