Frequently interrupted sleep increases the risk of death, especially in women

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  • Frequently disrupted sleep increases people's chances of heart-related diseases
  • A study showed that women who do not sleep well have a much higher chance of developing fatal heart problems than men 
  • This proves the importance of good sleep for heart health

A new study found that a lack of sleep during the night increases one's risk of dying from diseases of the heart and blood vessels, and death from any cause, particularly in women.

The research published in the European Heart Journal assessed the link between the frequency and duration of unconscious wakefulness during the night and the chances of developing life-threatening conditions.

Monitoring sleep

Researchers defined unconscious wakefulness as the spontaneous response of the body to triggers that could indicate danger, like noise, obstructed breathing, pain, limb movements, trauma, temperature, and light. 

The study used data from 8 001 men and women who were involved in other studies, most of them sleep-related. Researchers looked at data from sleep monitors worn by participants. 

They followed up on participants for six to 11 years. The experts took into account total sleep duration, age, medical history, body mass index and smoking habits.

Risk factors

The study findings show that women who experienced unconscious wakefulness frequently and for extended periods had nearly double the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease during a period of six to 11 years follow-up compared to the risk in the general female population.

Women who frequently experienced disrupted sleep had a 12.8% risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, nearly double that of women of a similar age in the general population who had a risk of 6.7%. Their chances of dying were 31.5%, which is more than 10% higher than the general female population.

Men with frequently interrupted sleep had a 1.3 times greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than men who generally had a good quality of sleep.

"It is unclear why there is a difference between men and women in the associations, but there are some potential explanations. The triggers causing arousal or the body's response to arousal may differ in women compared to men. This may explain the relatively higher risk of cardiovascular death in women. Women and men may have different compensatory mechanisms for coping with the detrimental effects of arousal. Women may have a higher arousal threshold, and so this may result in a higher trigger burden in women compared to men," says study co-author Prof Dominik Linz in a news release.

According to the authors, this study proves the importance of quality sleep for better cardiovascular health outcomes.  

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