“Insomnia is a common health issue, particularly in older adults, but the link between this common sleep disorder and its impact on the risk of death has been unclear,” said study author Yanping Li, PhD, a medical research fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in Boston. “Our research shows that among men who experience specific symptoms of insomnia, there is a modest increase risk in death from cardiovascular-related issues.”
The researchers found that difficulty falling to sleep and poor sleep quality were both connected with a higher risk of mortality, largely related to cardiovascular disease.
In the study, BWH researchers tracked over 23,000 men who self-reported any insomnia symptoms for a six-year period. From 2004 to 2010, researchers recorded over 2000 participant deaths using data from government and family sources. After accounting for factors such as age and chronic conditions, researchers discovered that men who said they had either difficulty falling asleep or low-quality sleep had a 55 percent and 32 percent increased risk of mortality related to cardiovascular disease over the six year follow up, when compared to participants who did not report having insomnia-related symptoms.
“We know that sleep is important for cardiovascular health and many studies have linked poor or insufficient sleep with increased risk factors for cardiovascular-related diseases,” said Dr. Xiang Gao, a study author from BWH and Harvard School of Public Health. “Now we know that not only can poor sleep impact disease risk, but it may also impact our longevity.”
“While further research is necessary to confirm these findings, there is overwhelming evidence that practicing good sleep hygiene and prioritizing sufficient and restful sleep is an often overlooked but important modifiable risk factor in overall health,” he added.
The new study was released as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released preliminary results of its own research on Monday that said curing insomnia in patients with depression double their chance for a full recovery from the cognitive disorder. The results were from one of four insomnia trials being funded by the NIH.
Experts familiar with the NIH research told the New York Times that the results were plausible and could lead to major changes in treatment.
“It would be an absolute boon to the field,” said Dr. Nada L. Stotland, professor of psychiatry at Rush Medical College in Chicago.
“It makes good common sense clinically,” she added. “If you have a depression, you’re often awake all night, it’s extremely lonely, it’s dark, you’re aware every moment that the world around you is sleeping, every concern you have is magnified.”
Colleen E. Carney, who is heading up the research at Ryerson University in Toronto, said her team’s part in the study was small, but added that a more definitive picture should emerge as the other teams released their results. Those studies include about 70 patients each and are being conducted at Stanford, Duke and the University of Pittsburgh.