Sleep problems increase risk of heart attack

There’s even more reason to get a good night’s sleep. People with insomnia face a 27 to 45 per cent higher risk of having a heart attack, according to new research from Norway.

For the study, published in Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association, researchers looked at 52,610 Norwegian adults who answered a national survey about their insomnia symptoms during 1995-1997. Over the next 11 years, 2,368 people were identified as having their first heart attack.

The survey was adjusted for factors such as age, sex, marital status, education level, blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, weight, exercise, shift work, depression and anxiety — and the findings still indicated the highest risk was among the most troubled sleepers. Researchers compared data from those who had no trouble sleeping to those who had daily issues falling asleep, and noted a 45 per cent higher risk in those with insomnia. Those who could fall asleep but not stay asleep had a 30 per cent higher risk.

The data was not adjusted for sleep apnea, but it is known that some sleep conditions like obstructive sleep apnea bear two of the same biomarkers as cardiovascular disease — C-reactive protein and interleukin-6, proteins that are linked to inflammation.

The authors of the study say that at least one third of the population report having trouble sleeping and should immediately see a doctor about it as the issues are a modifiable risk factor for heart disease that is fairly easy to treat.

Researchers warn that sleep patterns among the Norwegian population may not be applicable to other populations. However, similar connections between insomnia and heart disease have been suggested in previous studies. People with a sleep problems also have higher risk of obesity and diabetes, research has shown.

Getting a good night’s sleep has also been associated with better longevity, more satisfaction with life in general and improved cognitive health.

Sleep smarter and better

Here are a few tips to keep you on a regular sleep schedule:

Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.

Yes, even on weekends. It is the one way to train your body for a good night’s rest. If you set your alarm to wake you up at the same time every morning your body will be ready for rest at the same time every night, making it easier to fall asleep quickly and stay asleep the whole night.


Be mindful of the effect of light on your ability to fall asleep.

Our bodies need to produce melatonin in order for us to fall asleep, and both natural sunlight and artificial house lights prevent it from being produced. This is because the body perceives light as daytime – the time to be awake. In order to help you fall asleep once it’s time to hit the sheets, turn down most of the lights two hours before bed. This will signal the brain that it is time to produce melatonin. On the opposite end, you can also use light to help you wake up naturally at the same time every morning. If your bedroom does not allow plenty of sunlight to come in at sunrise, there are new alarms available that use lamps working on the same schedule as the sun, getting brighter as the sun rises. It’s a good solution for anyone living in a basement or room with small windows, or those who work night shifts.

Watch what you put into your body near bedtime.

We all know by now that caffeine late at night is a big no-no if you want to fall asleep. Avoid the stimulant as much as possible if you suffer from sleep issues, and if you must drink it, do so early in the day. Alcohol, despite making us feel sleepy, prevents our bodies from being able to reach the most important stage of sleep – REM. Older individuals are even more susceptible to this, as their bodies often have higher levels of alcohol in the bloodstream and brain when consuming the same amount of alcohol as a younger person. Food is also something to be aware of. A big meal before bed can interfere with sleep — but going to bed hungry is also a bad idea. A small snack like peanuts, a banana or warm milk are conducive to sleep.

Exercise earlier in the day.

Exercise is a great way to promote healthy sleep habits. It can help to regulate your sleep cycle and tire your body out for when it comes time to go to sleep — but don’t do it too close to bedtime. Because exercise stimulates the body, experts say it’s better to work out earlier in the day so it won’t interfere with your ability to fall asleep. The best time to exercise is first thing in the morning when you wake up — it will leave you feeling energized for the rest of the day.


Keep it cool.

If you’ve ever tried to sleep during the hottest days of summer without the benefit of fans or air conditioning, you know just how hard it is to fall asleep in hot weather. Heat (like sunlight) keeps us awake, especially in temperatures over 20 degrees Celsius, so lower the room temperature before bedtime. A warm bath 90 minutes before bed can also help induce sleep – as your body temperature drops your sleep mechanism is triggered.

(For more tips see our article 10 tips for better sleep.)

Do you have any tips for falling and staying asleep? Tell us in the comments.

Additional source: National Post

Photo © nicolas hansen

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