SHENYANG, China — Struggling to fall asleep can be maddening, but it may also carry serious health risks. A recent study finds that insomnia can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

With more people suffering from insomnia symptoms than ever, including difficulty initiating sleep, difficulty maintaining sleep, early-morning awakening, and non-restorative sleep, the study’s first author Qiao He and her team from China Medical University studied the cardiovascular effects of these symptoms.

Person in bed who can't sleep“Sleep is important for biological recovery and takes around a third of our lifetime, but in modern society more and more people complain of insomnia,” explains He in a European Society of Cardiology news release. “For example, it is reported that approximately one-third of the general population in Germany has suffered from insomnia symptoms.”

The researchers examined data from more than 160,000 people who participated in 15 different studies. During follow-up assessments, researchers found 11,702 patients suffered adverse cardiac events.

The insomnia symptoms that drew the highest correlations to heart disease were difficulty falling asleep, difficulty maintaining sleep, and non-restorative sleep.

“We found that difficulty initiating sleep, difficulty maintaining sleep, or non-restorative sleep were associated with 27%, 11%, and 18% higher risks of cardiovascular and stroke events, respectively,” says He.

Researchers had already found that lack of sleep can affect metabolism, raise blood pressure, and increase sympathetic activation, which are all risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke. He and her researchers are looking for well-established and provable reasons behind the link between insomnia and heart disease.

While women appear to have a higher risk of suffering from insomnia, according to the study, there doesn’t appear to be a greater risk of heart disease in women suffering from the condition.

The study was published earlier this year in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

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