The Link Between Heart Disease and Insomnia

Health Conditions

The Link Between Heart Disease and Insomnia

Insomnia.Congenital Heart Disease
Ilima Loomis
By Ilima Loomis
Sept 18, 2019
A woman staring at the clock because she cannot sleep due to insomnia

Lack of sleep has long been linked to a number of health problems, including hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. But recent research is finding more and more evidence that insomnia is also connected with another potentially life-threatening medical condition: heart disease.

It’s not entirely clear exactly how lack of sleep contributes to problems with your heart. Scientists do know that not sleeping enough, or having your sleep interrupted, can disrupt some of your body’s natural processes, like metabolizing glucose or regulating blood pressure, and can trigger the body’s stress response.

What is clear is that people who have trouble sleeping are at greater risk of high blood pressure, cardiac events, and heart failure.

Lack of Sleep Increases Risk:

One study that followed more than 44,000 people with insomnia for more than 10 years found they were more likely to have a stroke or heart attack than a control group matched for age, sex, and health status. And sleep apnea, in which the sleeper’s airway is blocked by tissues in the back of the throat, waking the person up multiple times a night, is linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure and heart problems.

Women and Heart Disease:

Understanding the connection between sleep and heart disease is especially important for women, who experience insomnia at higher rates than men. And a study of more than 86,000 older women found that women who self-reported insomnia were at higher risk of developing coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease over 10 years.

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What Causes Insomnia?

People with insomnia have a hard time falling or staying asleep, and often they wake up feeling tired. Sometimes insomnia occurs on its own, but it is also associated with health conditions like depression, arthritis, or heartburn, or it can be caused by certain medications or substances, like alcohol.

Other sleep disorders, like restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea, can cause difficulty sleeping, or wake people in the night and make it hard to get adequate rest.

A Two-Way Street:

The relationship between heart disease and sleep goes both ways. While poor sleep can contribute to cardiovascular disease, problems with your heart can also make it hard to get a good night’s sleep. Symptoms like chest pain and tightness can make it difficult to fall asleep, or wake you up in middle of the night. And lying down can make you feel short of breath, because fluid in your body moves up from your legs to settle in your chest, making it hard to breathe. That’s why insomnia should be considered one of the potential heart disease symptoms.

What You Can Do:

Most adults need at least 7 hours of sleep per night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you’re not getting enough, or if you’re waking up tired in the morning, try taking steps to improve your sleep hygiene.

Go to bed around the same time each night, avoid food and alcohol in the hours before bedtime, and stay off your phone or devices when you’re in bed. Exercising and getting natural light during the day also primes your body to sleep better at night.

Work with your doctor to diagnose and manage any medical conditions that may be interfering with your sleep, like sleep apnea, depression, or heartburn, and take any necessary medications. If you’re taking heart medication, remember that RxSaver can help you save up to 85% on your medications.

Finally, if insomnia is consistently persistent, cognitive behavioral therapy has been found to be a very effective and lasting treatment for long-term sleep problems in both adults and children.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, accounting for one in every four deaths in the United States, so it’s important to understand the risk factors and symptoms. By understanding the link between heart disease and sleep, you can help spot symptoms early, and take steps to improve your health.

Ilima Loomis

Ilima Loomis

Ilima Loomis is a freelance writer and journalist who specializes in writing about health care, HR, science, travel, and Hawaii. You can find more of her work at ilimaloomis.com. Ilima is a regular contributor to the RxSaver blog.

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