Insomnia Linked to Increased Heart Attack, Stroke Risk

Do you suffer from insomnia? According to a new study from the American Academy of Neurology, your insomnia is not just a nuisance. It also puts you at greater risk of heart attack and stroke.

In a study published in the online version of the journal Neurology, researchers at the University in Beijing, China involved over 487,000 people. Those participating had no previous history of stroke or heart disease when the study began. The results revealed a clear correlation between insomnia and stroke, heart attack or other cardiovascular or cerebrovascular diseases.

“These results suggest that if we can target people who are having trouble sleeping with behavioral therapies, it’s possible that we could reduce the number of cases of stroke, heart attack and other diseases later down the line,” said study author Liming Li, MD, of Peking University in Beijing, China.

Scientists tracked the three symptoms of insomnia among the participants, asking if the symptoms occurred at least three days a week. Those symptoms are trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, waking up too early in the morning and trouble staying focused during the day as a result of poor sleep.

11 percent of participants had difficulty falling or staying asleep, while 10 percent reported waking up too early. Two percent reported trouble staying focused during their day due to poor sleep or sleep disruption. Researchers didn’t identify whether the participants met the full definition of insomnia

During the ten years during which participants were followed by researchers, there were 130,032 cases of heart attack, stroke and related diseases.


Those displaying all three symptoms of insomnia were 18 percent more likely to develop these diseases than those displaying no symptoms. The research team adjusted for other factors affecting the risk of heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases like physical activity, smoking and alcohol use.

For people having trouble falling asleep, the likelihood of developing stroke or heart disease increased by 9 percent over those not suffering this symptom. 55,127 people in the group had this symptom. 32 percent, or 17,650 had a stroke or heart disease, compared to only 26 percent of those without this symptom of insomnia.

Those who reported waking up too early in the morning and not being able tom get back to sleep had a 7 percent higher likelihood of heart attack, stroke or cardiovascular/cerebrovascular disease than people without that symptom. Those reporting difficulty staying focused during the day because of poor sleep were 13 percent more likely than those without that symptom to suffer from these diseases.

“The link between insomnia symptoms and these diseases was even stronger in younger adults and people who did not have high blood pressure at the start of the study, so future research should look especially at early detection and interventions aimed at these groups,” Li said.

The study shows only the linkage between stroke, heart disease and cardiovascular/cerebrovascular diseases and insomnia symptoms, not the cause and effect, according to Li.

Self-reporting of insomnia symptoms was one limitation of the study, since self-reported information may or may not be accurate. Additionally, researchers did not ask about non-refreshing sleep, another common symptom of insomnia.

If insomnia is an issue for you, don’t ignore it. The problems it causes for you may go well beyond occasionally nodding off at your desk during the day or not feeling your best. Your heart and brain health may also be at risk.

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Journal Reference – Bang Zheng, Canqing Yu, Jun Lv, Yu Guo, Zheng Bian, Mi Zhou, Ling Yang, Yiping Chen, Xiaojun Li, Ju Zou, Feng Ning, Junshi Chen, Zhengming Chen, Liming Li. Insomnia symptoms and risk of cardiovascular diseases among 0.5 million adults A 10-year cohort. Neurology, 2019

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