Are your worries keeping you up at night? Well, a new finding—about insomnia itself— could make it harder to get a little shut-eye tonight. Men who have trouble falling asleep at night or display other insomnia symptoms had a 25 percent greater likelihood of dying over six years compared to those who had no sleep troubles, according to Brigham and Women’s Hospital researchers.
The study, published last week in the journal Circulation, surveyed 23,000 men about their sleep habits and found that those who reported a delay in falling asleep at night or who felt sleepy during the day from having poor quality sleep had a higher risk of dying overall and a 55 percent greater risk of dying of heart disease.
“It’s a pretty strong association between insomnia and heart deaths,” said Dr. Xiang Gao, a senior epidemiologist at the Brigham and Harvard Medical School who co-authored the study. But, he said the lack of women in the study was a “big limitation” since the results may not apply to them.
He and his colleagues controlled for a variety of factors linked to insomnia—such as depression, anxiety, and the use of mood-altering medications—that might have also contributed to more heart disease deaths, but they still found that insomnia had health risks.
The importance of getting adequate sleep has gained a lot of respect in the medical community in recent years. This lifestyle habit now ranks on par with a nutritious diet and regular exercise in terms of its importance to our health. Delaying bedtime can disrupt the release of certain hormones necessary to help the body repair and restore its organ systems. Getting too little sleep in general can cause a rise in heart-damaging inflammation.
Unfortunately the study couldn’t determine just how many sleepless nights or hours spent trying to snooze actually led to a higher death risk since the men were merely asked to report whether they had insomnia at a single point in time.
Gao said research analyses looking at multiple points in time—involving studies that also include women—are currently in the works. In the meantime, he recommended that those with chronic insomnia lasting more than a few weeks should visit a sleep specialist. “Relaxation techniques or cognitive behavioral therapy where people learn to challenge anxious thoughts about sleep could be helpful,” he said.