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Heart and cardiovascular system

Insomnia, those who sleep little have a higher cardiovascular risk?

March 12, 2018

To keep the heart healthy over the years, it is best to control the many risk factors that can compromise cardiovascular wellbeing, from excess weight to cigarette smoking to high blood pressure. Over the years, however, numerous evidence has emerged that insomnia is one of the conditions that can threaten this wellbeing. Sleeping well and sufficiently is a healthy habit even for the heart. We talk about it with Doctor Lara Fratticci, neurologist at Humanitas.


Obesity and diabetes related to insomnia

Cardiovascular wellbeing is something that is built over time and that passes through a healthy lifestyle at 360 degrees. The two pillars are healthy and balanced nutrition and regular aerobic activity, but that is not all: an additional recommendation would be to get adequate and quality sleep. Several studies in recent years have in fact associated the lack of sleep with negative implications for cardio cerebrovascular health. For example, a study by the American Heart Association in 2011 correlated sleep deficiency with an increased risk of hypertension, one of the most important risk factors for the heart.

The same association, in 2016, took an open position on the pages of the scientific journal Circulation regarding the importance of promoting healthier night habits to protect the heart and brain. The authors of the research indicated a correlation between sleep duration and sleep disorders with cardiometabolic risk, type two diabetes, hypertension and obesity and therefore cardiovascular disease.

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Sleep with fatigue

A new confirmation of this close link has emerged from research carried out by the Chinese Medical University of Shenyang (China) published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, which has associated insomnia with an increased risk of stroke. Its authors conducted a meta-analysis of fifteen prospective studies, with a total of 160,867 participants. Over the course of about thirty years, 11,702 adverse cardiovascular events have been diagnosed (myocardial infarction, coronary heart disease, heart failure, stroke or a combination of events).


The symptoms of insomnia detected were the difficulty to fall asleep, to maintain sleep, early awakening and non-restful sleep: “In particular – adds Dr. Fratticci – the difficulty of falling asleep was associated with the increased risk of heart attack and stroke”. This was 27% while in the relationship with a non-restful sleep or a sleep disturbed by micro awakenings the percentages fell to 18% and 11%, always compared to those who did not have insomnia disorders.


“In general – continues the specialist – a more significant association has emerged in the female sex. On the other hand, a correlation with early awakening has not emerged because, although it is interrupted earlier, it is not necessarily a restless sleep “.


What can change with sleep deprivation?

When you sleep, brain activity changes: “Physiologically the sympathetic activity is reduced and the parasympathetic activity of the autonomic nervous system is increased. There may be micro awakenings, but in a number that is tolerated by the body. On the other hand, when sleep interruptions are more frequent, the level of psycho-physiological activation rises, there is somatic, cognitive and cerebral hyperactivation – recalls Dr. Fratticci – and the activity of the autonomic nervous system is unbalanced in favor of sympathetic activity “.


What does the body encounter in these circumstances? “Increases blood pressure and heart rate; increase in the level of some neurotransmitters, metabolism and body temperature; increase in the production of interleukins or inflammatory molecules; sugar tolerance changes and the use of sugars in the brain is reduced, inflammatory processes are triggered, which can lead to the onset of diabetes, a risk factor for heart disease.


“Finally, the production of leptin, the satiety hormone, decreases and the production of grelina, the hormone of hunger, grows. Moreover, there is a correlation with tachycardia and cardiac arrhythmia. All these aspects, with a greater activity of the sympathetic system, have an impact on the cardio cerebrovascular health of the individual,” concludes Dr. Fratticci.

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