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New research connects insomnia and heart failure

We were pleased to see a report on NBCNews.com about the latest research on how insomnia harms your heart — not because we’re glad there’s a connection between sleep trouble and heart health, but because the more widely-read this information is, the more people we hope will take it seriously!

The least you should know:

  • The learning comes from a new, multi-year study published in the European Heart Journal, which finds a substantial link between insomnia and heart failure.
  • The indicators monitored were ones we talk to patients about often: trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep and waking up still feeling fatigued.
  • Research found a rise in the incidence of heart failure among participants who experienced just one of those symptoms “occasionally” or “often” — 5% and 14%, respectively; the more disturbing connection was found among those who experienced all three symptoms frequently: among these participants, heart failure rates more than tripled.

Why is insomnia linked to an increased risk of heart failure?

The study’s co-author, Lars Laugsand, PhD, of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology correctly explains that “Insomnia is a disorder marked by hyperarousal.” That means insomnia increases the activity in the system in the body that adjusts for stressors, e.g., sweating to reduce your body temperature, and the familiar “fight or flight” response to danger (your sympathetic nervous system); your body’s response is to release stress hormones. “This hormonal surge appears to boost blood pressure, which explains why periods of insomnia can make you feel like your heart is pounding or your body is overheating. These stress hormones also increase inflammation levels and spur the release of catecholamines, a group of compounds that previous research has tied to an increased risk of heart disease…”

We all know that the chronic affects of stress are associated with a variety of health issues; insomnia produces its own stressful effects. So if you are having trouble sleeping, tell your doctor, or come see our sleep specialists trained in properly diagnosing and treating the 80+ different sleep disorders. Let’s make sure insomnia (or other sleep problems) don’t harm your heart!

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