Sleep Disturbance Tied to Stroke and Heart Attack

People who have sleep issues might be at a higher risk for stroke or heart attack, warns a new observational study of roughly half a million people in China.  

Study coauthor Liming Li MD, of Peking University, notes that three symptoms of insomnia have been consistently associated with higher rates of ischemic heart disease and stroke across the ten year period.  These three symptoms are:  trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, waking up too early, and daytime dysfunction due to poor sleep.

When adjusting for some factors that might influence sleep and sleep quality—including age, physical activity, snoring frequency, depression, anxiety, tea and alcohol consumption, and sleep aid use—each symptom was linked with noticeably higher cerebrovascular and cardiovascualr risks.  Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep was associated with a nine percent higher risk.  Early waking and trouble falling back asleep was associated with a seven percent higher risk.  Daytime dysfunction (from poor sleep quality) was associated with a 13 percent higher risk. 

Li explains, “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.”

Systematic review, combined with meta-analysis, of several studies seem to indicate a very strong link between baseline insomnia and risk for myocardial infarction and stroke.  One specific meta-analysis indicated more than 50 percent of patients who have transient ischemic heart attack or stroke also had sleep-disordered breathing.  Furthermore, another longitudinal study suggest that young adults who have insomnia have eight times the risk for stroke than their peers.

In a statement, Li goes on to say, “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.”

Effectively, this research supports a growing body of study investigating how sleep disturbances could contribute to cardiovascular health.  Apparently there are many factors linked with sleep disturbances that can definitely contribute to cardiovascualr and cerebrovascular events.  The study, then, helps to identify these factors include (but are not limited to):  development of arterial hypertension and/or glucose intolerance, sympathetic activation, and sleep apnea. 

The results of this study have been published in the journal Neurology.