Closeup of older woman sleeping in bed

Patients who regularly have trouble sleeping are 69% more likely to experience a heart attack when compared to their peers who don’t have a sleep disorder, according to a new study with nine-years’ followup.

Certain factors contribute to this risk, investigators found. People who reported sleeping for five or fewer hours each night were the most likely to have a heart attack. And those with both diabetes and insomnia were twofold more likely to do so, they reported. High blood pressure or cholesterol raised the risk as well.

The results held after controlling for other heart attack risks such as age, gender, comorbidities and smoking. Risk remained high across age groups, including in adults aged 65 years and older.

Notably, amount of sleep rather than quality of sleep seemed to be the more relevant factor affecting risk levels. Non-restorative sleep and daytime dysfunction were not associated with heart attack. 

Insomnia is estimated to affect 10% to 30% of American adults, affects more women than men and is growing in prevalence, according to the researchers.

Insomnia as a life choice?

“Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, but in many ways it’s no longer just an illness, it’s more of a life choice. We just don’t prioritize sleep as much as we should,” said study author Yomna E. Dean, a medical student at Alexandria University in Egypt.

“Based on our pooled data, insomnia should be considered a risk factor for developing a heart attack, and we need to do a better job of educating people about how dangerous” this lack of sleep can be, Dean added.

Investigators reviewed studies including more than 1.2 million participants across numerous countries. Most participants (96%) did not have a prior history of heart attack at baseline. The research will be presented at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session Together With the World Congress of Cardiology, taking place from March 4 to 6.

Related articles:

AHA to clinicians: Screen for and treat sleep apnea before it worsens heart disease

Insomnia symptoms linked to multiple cardiovascular diseases

To protect your heart, don’t sleep too much – or too little