Sleeplessness Tied to Heart Health

Heart and other health troubles happened more often in those who were sleep deprived

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Not getting enough sleep is a common complaint, but a regular lack of sleep can be unhealthy. Being routinely sleep deprived can tax the body, including the heart.

Patients with heart failure who regularly didn’t get enough shut-eye were more likely to be hospitalized for heart failure or other medical problems than were heart failure patients who generally slept well, according to a new study.

"Ask your doctor about how to remedy sleep problems."

This study’s lead author was Peter Johansson, BNSc, RN, a heart failure nurse at the University Hospital of Linköping in Linköping, Sweden.

For this investigation, Johansson and his research team enrolled 499 heart failure patients who had previously participated in the Coordinating Study Evaluating Outcomes of Advising and Counseling in Heart Failure (COACH). On average, the 499 patients were 70 years old.

At the start of Johannson's year long investigation, information on the sleep, physical performance and mental health of all the patients was recorded while they were hospitalized with cardiovascular trouble.

During that hospitalization, the quality of their sleep was evaluated based on their answers to a single question: “Was your sleep restless?" Those answers were rated in accordance with the Centre for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D).

After that point, these researchers documented the number and cause of emergency hospitalizations that occurred among patients over the course of 12 months of follow-up.

Based on their findings, the researchers concluded that 215 patients of the 499 patients (43 percent) had sleep problems when they were discharged from that first hospitalization. Twelve months later, 105 of the 299 patients (roughly 30 percent) continued to have trouble sleeping. 

That meant patients with ongoing sleep problems were twice as likely to be hospitalized with cardiovascular or other health problems during the 12 months of follow-up than were patients who reported they had no trouble sleeping, the researchers wrote.

"Our finding that consistently poor sleep leads to twice as many hospitalizations in patients with heart failure underlines the impact that sleep can have on health,” Johansson said in a press statement. “In Sweden we don't generally ask our heart failure patients about sleep and this study shows that we should. If patients say their sleep is poor that may be a warning signal to investigate the reasons."

He said sleep deprived patients possibly may have habits that do not lead to sound sleep. These include drinking alcohol or coffee too late at night, or having a bedroom whose temperature is too hot or cold.

"[P]atients who say they consistently have poor sleep should be taken seriously. To help the patients, health professionals for example can look at their medications or send them to a sleep lab for a sleep apnea investigation," Johansson said.

"We need to ask all our heart failure patients whether they sleep well and, if not, find out why," he said.

Sleep apnea symptoms include shallow breathing and breathing that is interrupted by extended periods of not breathing normally during the sleep cycle.

Of the 284 patients reporting that their sleep was good at the start of the study, 14 percent reported that they had sleep problems during the 12 months of follow-up. The researchers said that they did not consider that percentage to be not statistically significant.

Sarah Samaan, MD, FACC, of Baylor Heart Hospital in Plano, Texas, said this study doesn't precisely answer why sleeplessness raises the risks of heart failure. She added, however, that "other research has found that lack of sleep can contribute to diastolic dysfunction (stiffness of the heart muscle) as well as higher blood pressure, both of which can aggravate heart failure. Sleep apnea is strongly linked to heart failure as well. And as the researchers point out, poor sleep can lead to other behaviors--such as overeating and a sedentary lifestyle--that are harmful to the heart."

She continued: "For many years, the medical establishment and others considered sleep as something of an indulgence, nice to have, but something that could be put off for another day." Those notions turned out to be false ones, Dr. Samaan said.

This new research was presented April 5 at EuroHeartCare 2014 in Stavanger, Norway. It has not been approved for publication in a medical journal.

Funders of this preliminary study were not disclosed, nor did study authors report whether they had financial or other conflicts of interest related to the study.

Review Date: 
April 4, 2014
Last Updated:
April 6, 2014